Iran said Tuesday that it would begin enriching uranium to a level of 60 percent purity, three times the current level and much closer to that needed to make a bomb, though American officials doubt the country has the ability to produce a weapon in the near future.
Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, did not give a reason for the shift, but it appeared to be retaliation for an Israeli attack on Iran’s primary nuclear fuel production plant as well as a move to strengthen Iran’s hand in nuclear talks in Vienna.
Mr. Araghchi said that Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency of its decision in a letter on Tuesday.
Iran also attacked an Israeli-owned cargo ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, officials said, the latest clash in its maritime shadow war with Israel. The attack was another sign of increased tensions in the region but was reported to have caused little to no damage.
threat assessment report released on Tuesday.
The report said, however, that “if Tehran does not receive sanctions relief” — as Iran has demanded — “Iranian officials probably will consider options ranging from further enriching uranium up to 60 percent to designing and building a new” nuclear reactor that could, over the long term, produce bomb-grade material. That would take years.
The assessment would seem to give President Biden some breathing room as he enters negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring some form of the nuclear agreement.
the attack on Sunday at the nuclear fuel-production center at Natanz, where an explosion knocked the facility offline. He said that Iran would install an additional 1,000 centrifuges there to increase the plant’s capacity by 50 percent.
An Iranian official also provided a new estimate of the damage caused by the attack, saying that several thousand centrifuges were “completely destroyed.” That level of destruction takes out a large portion of Iran’s ability to enrich uranium.
But the full extent of the damage is unknown, and Iran presumably is vulnerable to continued attacks on its nuclear infrastructure. Until the electric power systems are rebuilt at Natanz, it would be impossible to make new centrifuges spin.
Iran is expected to replace the first-generation centrifuges damaged in the Israeli attack with more advanced, more efficient models.
uses about 1,000 centrifuges.
To raise the level to 60 percent purity, Iran would have to turn over roughly half of those machines onto the new enrichment job. Purifying it to 90 percent would require another hundred or so machines.
apparent mine attack by Israel on an Iranian military vessel in the Red Sea, the American official said.
A cargo ship owned by the same company, the Helios Ray, was attacked by Iran earlier this year.
Iranian officials also revealed more details about the Natanz attack on Tuesday, suggesting that the damage was greater than Iran previously reported.
Alireza Zakani, a member of Parliament and head of its research center, said on state television that “several thousand of our centrifuges have been completely destroyed,” representing a large portion of the country’s ability to enrich uranium.
He described official statements on Monday that the facility would be quickly repaired as false promises.
Foreign intelligence officials have said it could take many months for Iran to undo the damage.
Iranian officials have been livid about the security lapses that have allowed a series of attacks on Iran’s nuclear program over the past year, ranging from sabotage of nuclear facilities to the theft of classified documents to the assassination of Iran’s chief nuclear scientist. Most of these attacks were presumed to have been carried out by Israel.
Mr. Zakani criticized Iran’s security apparatus as lax, saying it had allowed spies to “roam free,” turning Iran into “a haven for spies.”
He said that in one incident, some nuclear equipment belonging to a major facility was sent abroad for repair and that when it returned the equipment was packed with 300 pounds of explosives. In another incident, he said, explosives were placed in a desk and smuggled inside the nuclear facility.
Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at energy development. Israel claims that Iran had and may still have an active nuclear weapons program and considers the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat.
The nuclear talks that began in Vienna last week have been delayed because a member of the European Union delegation tested positive for the coronavirus. The talks could resume as early as Thursday if the member tests negative.
Patrick Kingsley, Ronen Bergman and Steven Erlanger contributed reporting.
An Iranian military vessel stationed in the Red Sea was damaged by an apparent Israeli mine attack on Tuesday in an escalation of the shadowy naval skirmishing that has characterized the two adversaries’ exchanges in recent years.
The damage to the vessel, which Iranian media identified as the Saviz, came as progress was reported on the first day of talks to revive American participation in the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and major world powers. Israel, which regards Iran as its most potent foe, strongly opposes a restoration of that agreement, which was abandoned by the Trump administration three years ago.
Several Iranian news outlets showed images of flames and smoke billowing from a stricken vessel in the Red Sea, but the full extent of the damage or any casualties was unclear.
The Saviz, though technically classified as a cargo ship, was the first vessel deployed for military use that is known to have been attacked in the Israeli-Iranian skirmishes.
a regional shadow war that had previously played out by land and air.
published a report in October 2020 that asserted the Saviz was a covert military ship operated by the Revolutionary Guards. The report said uniformed men were present onboard and a boat type used by the Revolutionary Guards, with a hull similar to a Boston Whaler, was on the ship’s deck.
Iran has engaged in its own clandestine attacks. The last one was reported March 25, when an Israeli-owned container ship, the Lori, was hit by an Iranian missile in the Arabian Sea, an Israeli official said. No casualties or significant damage were reported.
The Israeli campaign is part of Israel’s effort to curb Iran’s military influence in the Middle East and stymie Iranian efforts to circumvent American sanctions on its oil industry.
Ships were again moving slowly through the Suez Canal on Tuesday, hours after engineers freed the Ever Given and cleared the waterway for global traffic.
Shipowners, exporters and importers are now racing to secure berths and containers at ports, while warning of delays and higher costs for cargoes that are slowly starting to move toward their destinations again. Shipping lines sent many ships on alternative routes, including around the southern tip of Africa, delaying arrivals and adding costs. Port authorities are girding for a flood of arrivals as diverted ships and delayed Suez vessels arrive on top of regularly scheduled traffic.
The Ever Given, a 1,300-foot container ship, was wedged in the canal for most of a week until dredgers, powerful tugs and a favorable tide all helped to lift it free. The vessel was towed to an anchorage out of the way of canal traffic. Once the canal was clear, the first of several ships stuck in the waterway made its way to the Red Sea.
Gulf Agency Co., a shipping-services company operating at Suez, said a total of 437 vessels had been blocked by the Ever Given’s grounding. Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, which runs the 120-mile shipping route, said Tuesday that 113 ships had crossed in both directions since the route reopened and another 95 are expected to pass by the evening. That is up from the typical 50 or so making the voyage, which can take up to 16 hours. The logjam will be cleared within three to four days, he told a press conference.
Dozens are also anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, an inland body of water along the route of the canal, where salvagers have towed the Ever Given. Authorities are inspecting it to anchor for damage.
Livestock carriers, whose cargo was deemed most at risk, have been given priority. For Valid Diab, who runs supplies for three animal-carrying ships, the reopening was a relief. His ships were moved to the front of the line.
“I was getting worried about supplies,” he said. “Thank God, no mortality.” Two of his vessels are now scheduled to arrive in three days at the Saudi port of Jeddah, laden with Spanish calves and lambs and Romanian cows, in time for the Ramadan festivities that start next month.
With some 13% of global maritime trade and 10% of seaborne oil shipments traveling through the canal, the blockade disrupted the transportation of a range of goods, from grains and electronic chips to energy. Commodities-data company Kpler said it disrupted exports of liquefied natural gas from the world’s biggest exporter, Qatar. “There will be considerable delays in the loading schedule at Ras Laffan [in Qatar] for the start of April,” it warned.
Canal traffic is conducted by sending alternative slugs of ships, steaming one behind the other in convoys, in either direction, since the canal can’t handle two-way traffic everywhere along its route. The first ships from outside the canal entered late Monday from the Mediterranean. They diverted and dropped anchor in the Great Bitter Lake, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Around the same time, a convoy of vessels that had been stranded in the lake by the Ever Given weighed anchor and proceeded south. Once they exited, a second, northbound convoy of ships entered from the Red Sea en route to the Mediterranean. Once they pass the Great Bitter Lake, ships that anchored there overnight will proceed southbound to the Red Sea.
The ship that held up Suez Canal traffic, the Ever Given, is one of the world’s biggest ships.
How the ship stacks up
Ever Given built 2018
Deadweight*: 220,123 tons
Width: 194 feet
HMM Algeciras 2020 (world’s largest ship)
Deadweight*: 220,462 tons
Width: 200 feet
18 tractor trailers (72 feet)
NYK TRITON 2008
The largest ship through the Panama Canal
Deadweight*: 88,456 tons
Width: 131 feet
While traffic started moving again, shipping industry executives girded for continued delays. Many big lines, including A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the world’s largest container line, diverted more than a dozen ships around Africa. South Korean container operator HMM Co., which has 14 vessels transporting goods between Asia and Europe, decided to reroute three of its vessels heading to Europe via the Cape of Good Hope, around the south of Africa.
“It’s difficult to grasp the added costs of the rerouted journeys at the moment,” said Roh Jee-hwan, general manager at HMM’s public-relations office. Going around Africa adds nearly 2,500 miles to a vessel’s travel distance, Mr. Roh said. The amount of fuel needed for the extra travel can vary—even for the same type of ships—depending on the weather and currents along the journey, and the speed at which they travel.
Logistics experts were forecasting port congestion in Asia and Europe as some of these diverted vessels arrive at ports around the same time as the delayed vessels now making their way slowly through the canal. That is on top of regularly scheduled traffic.
“This backup risks leading to a concentration of volume,” said Luigi Bruzzone, an analyst for the port of Genoa, one of Italy’s busiest. “What we were expecting to come throughout April will now be concentrated in the last two weeks of the month.”
The Suez Canal Blockage
—Eun-Young Jeong and Eric Sylvers contributed to this article.
Write to Benoit Faucon at email@example.com and Stephen Kalin at firstname.lastname@example.org
SUEZ, Egypt—To get the giant container ship blocking the Suez Canal unstuck, engineers needed the stars to align. Actually, the sun, Earth and moon.
After several days trying to dislodge the Ever Given cargo ship, which had veered off course and embedded itself in the side of the canal, the salvage team pinned their hopes on this week’s full moon, when, beginning Sunday, water levels were set to rise a foot-and-a-half higher than normal high tides. That would make it easier to pull the 1,300-foot vessel out from the side of the canal without unloading a large number of the 18,000 or so containers it was carrying.
The engineers would have to work fast to make the most of this narrow window. The effect would only last a few days. But it would be their best shot at freeing up the canal—and with it, billions of dollars’ worth of global trade flows in the process.
Tides are higher whenever there is a full or new moon, which occurs when the moon is in direct alignment with the sun, with either the Earth or moon in the middle of the three. This causes a greater gravitational pull on the Earth. As a result, high tides are higher, and low tides are lower. They are known as spring tides and occur twice a month.
This time the effect was amplified by the first supermoon of the year, when a full moon coincides with the closest point to Earth in its elliptical orbit. Supermoons occur several times a year, and this one is known as the worm moon, for the earthworms that begin to appear in the soil in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year.
When it became clear that tugboats alone wouldn’t be able to dislodge the Ever Given, the rescue effort began looking to the supermoon’s pull on the tides and how it might help free the stranded vessel.
According to people involved in the operation, much of the work to dredge hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of sand was undertaken with the higher water levels in mind. Dredgers were assigned to the area and worked around the clock.
Lars Mikael Jensen, head of A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S’s global ocean network, said Monday was a particularly important day, when water levels began to peak.
“In the last couple of days all the available tug power has been allocated,” he said. Higher tides could give the salvage team the lift it needed to refloat the Ever Given.
Missing the deadline would be costly. Vessels waiting in the Mediterranean and Red Seas to traverse the 120-mile canal would face the prospect of a far longer journey around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa to reach their destinations in Europe and Asia. Others that hadn’t yet reached the area would also have had to make similar decisions.
Sea-Intelligence, a Copenhagen-based data group, estimated that the knock-on effect of rerouting ships around Africa or through the Panama Canal would effectively cut the world’s container shipping capacity by about 6% over the long term because vessels would spend more time sailing on longer voyages.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, facing arguably one of the biggest tests of his seven-year rule, ordered the Suez Canal Authority that runs the waterway to begin working on a contingency plan for the laborious process of unloading the containers if the refloat effort failed. The U.S., China, Greece and the United Arab Emirates all had offered to help.
The rescue team wanted to avoid that outcome at any cost.
“It’s really a last resort,” said Nick Sloane, a maritime salvage expert who led the high-profile effort to float the stricken cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy in 2012.
Raising the stakes further, seven days after a spring tide, the sun and moon are at right angles to each other in relation to the earth. At that point, the bulge in the ocean caused by the gravitational pull of the sun partially cancels out the influence of the moon, meaning that tides are lower. It would take significantly longer to pull loose the Ever Given in those conditions, salvage experts said.
It wasn’t initially clear to authorities how serious the situation was when the ship, operated by Taiwan-based Evergreen Group, hit the eastern side of the Suez Canal during a seasonal sandstorm known as a khamsin at around 7.30 a.m. on March 23, burying its nose 16 feet into the rocky soil.
Egyptian investigators have indicated that high winds were likely a factor, but were also looking at the possibility of human error or a mechanical failure. They also highlighted the danger of what are known as bank effects, which can pull or push a large ship close to shore when it is navigating in a shallow, narrow channel.
Based on an assessment by a team of divers, the Suez Canal Authority allowed additional vessels into the waterway, thinking the Ever Given would soon be freed by tugboats and earthmovers.
An image of a solitary mechanical digger attempting to unstick the hulking carrier quickly spread on the internet, where people used it to depict such monumental challenges as holding back threats such as the Covid-19 pandemic or climate change, or even just stacking a dishwasher correctly.
“I’m quite aware that this picture went viral and people thought this was our only procedure,” Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, said at a press conference Saturday.
When the initial effort failed, Mr. Rabie deployed dredgers to dig out sand from around the vessel and help tugboats move it a little bit further out each day at high tide.
Dutch salvage operator Smit Internationale N.V. flew in a team early Thursday morning to help with the new strategy. By Friday, the authority had completed about 87% of the dredging work it thought was needed to free the ship, removing close to 600,000 cubic feet, or roughly equivalent to seven Olympic-sized swimming pools of sand and mud.
“We got to dig deep to get it loose…Nothing else will happen until it’s done,” a person participating in the salvage operation said last week as the pressure started to build.
Their progress helped the salvagers turn on the ship’s propeller and rudder for the first time, raising the possibility on Friday evening that the ship might be pulled free by tugboats. But hopes were dashed when the daily tide receded and the ship’s bow remained wedged in the side of the canal, the authority said.
On Saturday, the team was using 12 tugboats—two at the front, six pushing the back and four pulling the stern—to try to dislodge the Ever Given. The dredgers by then had removed 950,000 cubic feet of sand and dug to a depth of 60 feet around the ship.
By Sunday night, the supermoon had caused tidal levels to exceed 6½ feet, some 19 inches above the high tide March 23 when the Ever Given ran aground. The salvage team’s best chance of success was approaching.
At 2 a.m. local time, the operation was aided by the arrival of a Dutch-flagged tugboat, the Alp Guard, with a pulling power of 285 metric tons, a major boost compared with the other tugboats working on the vessel, such as the Suez-based Baraka 1 that pulled at 160 tons.
“ ‘When this big tug came, immediately the stern of the ship was released from the bank.’ ”
— Captain Wessam Hafez, veteran chief pilot on the canal
Then, the days of dredging and digging began to pay off as the tugboats revved up their engines and began maneuvering the Ever Given in the higher tide, a person on another tugboat said.
The effort managed to dislodge the ship’s bow from the eastern side of the canal at about 5 a.m. and shift its stern 3,500 feet from the western side into the waterway, compared with 140-feet when it stuck, the authority said.
“We were working four days with our tugs,” said Captain Wessam Hafez, a veteran chief pilot on the canal. “When this big tug came, immediately the stern of the ship was released from the bank.”
A pair of tugboats pulled from the right side of the stern while others pushed from the opposite side. Others slowly pulled the front-left side of the ship out toward the center of the canal, slowly levering its bow out of the hole it had gouged in the side of the channel.
As the tide fell, moving out south toward the Red Sea, the ship slowly began to break clear. Video footage from the scene recorded some of the crews cheering “Allahu akbar,” or God is great, as dawn broke.
When water levels rose again toward midday, work began on finishing the job. Hopes for a swift end to the drama were initially dashed by currents and high winds working against the salvage team. But then, in the bright afternoon sunshine, the ship gently drifted toward the center of the canal, harnessed by an array of tugboats.
Mr. Sloane, the maritime salvage expert, said the few additional inches brought by the spring tides made a critical difference, adding thousands of tons of buoyancy to float the Ever Given.
“On a big ship like that, the impact is quite a lot,” he said.
—Stephen Kalin and Costas Paris contributed to this article.
The mammoth cargo ship blocking one of the world’s most vital maritime arteries was wrenched from the shoreline and finally set free on Monday, raising hopes that traffic could soon resume in the Suez Canal and limit the economic fallout of the disruption.
Salvage teams, working on land and water for six days and nights, were ultimately assisted by forces more powerful than any machine rushed to the scene: the moon and the tides.
The ship was ultimately set free at around 3 p.m., according to shipping officials. Horns blared in celebration as images emerged on social media of the once stuck ship on the move.
But just as the tides rose and fell, optimism waxed and waned throughout the day on Monday as each bit of encouraging news was met with words of caution.
Vessels packed with the world’s goods — including cars, oil, livestock and laptops — usually flow through the canal with ease, supplying much of the globe as they traverse the quickest path from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the East Coast of the United States.
With concerns that the salvage operation could take weeks, some ships decided not to wait, turning to take the long way around the southern tip of Africa, a voyage that can add weeks to the journey and more than $26,000 a day in fuel costs.
Each bit of progress in moving the ship over the weekend was celebrated by the workers on the canal — tugboat horns blaring and shouts of joy often echoing in the desert dark.
Late Saturday, tugboat drivers sounded off in celebration of what was up to that point the most visible sign of progress since the Ever Given ran aground late Tuesday.
The 1,300-foot ship moved. It did not go far — just two degrees, or about 100 feet, according to shipping officials. But that came on top of progress from Friday, when canal officials said dredgers had managed to dig out the rear of the ship, freeing its rudder.
celebrated the moment on Twitter, writing that “Egyptians have succeeded today in ending the crisis of the stuck ship in the Suez Canal despite the great complexities surrounding this situation in every aspect.”
Egyptian national television started broadcasting live coverage of the salvage operation, a signal of the government’s confidence that the situation would soon be resolved.
Teams of engineers and experts were still huddling on the banks of the canal, going over the intricate details of the sprawling salvage effort.
The company that oversees the ship’s operations and crew, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said 11 tugboats had helped, with two joining the struggle on Sunday. Several dredgers, including a specialized suction dredger that can extract 2,000 cubic meters of material per hour, dug around the vessel’s bow, the company said.
With the Ever Given sagging in the middle, its bow and stern both caught in positions for which they were not designed, the hull had been vulnerable to stress and cracks, according to experts. Just as every high tide brought hope the ship could be released, each low tide put new stresses on the vessel.
Teams of divers inspected the hull throughout the operation and found no damage, officials said. The ship was to be inspected again after it was freed.
The plan is to tow the ship to the Great Bitter Lake, located along the canal’s route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, so traffic could once gain flow smoothly.
However, it would take some time to also inspect the canal itself to ensure safe passage. And with hundreds of ships backed up on either side, it could be days before operations return to normal.
celebrated the moment on Twitter, writing that “Egyptians have succeeded today in ending the crisis of the stuck ship in the Suez Canal despite the great complexities surrounding this situation in every aspect.”
However, others involved in the operation urged caution.
While the ship was moving, what remained unclear was whether the bulbous bow — a protrusion at the front of the ship just below the waterline — is totally clear of dirt and debris. If it is still stuck in clay or obstructed by rocks, the early morning optimism could quickly fade.
Peter Berdowski, the chief executive of Royal Boskalis Westminster, which has been appointed by Ever Given’s owner to help move the vessel, told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS on Monday that he understood the bow to be stuck “rock solid.”
“The ship is like a giant whale that we have to slide off the beach, back in the water,” he said early Monday. Pulling the stern lose, he said, was the easy part.
“We shouldn’t start cheering just yet,” he cautioned.
The high tide on Monday morning peaked at 11:42 a.m. local time, and crews will continue maneuvers as long as the water remains high, according to the authority. The next high tide will crest around midnight.
Despite the note of caution, workers at the scene could be seen in images circulating on social media celebrating their progress in the predawn hours.
BREAKING : EVER GIVEN ship has been UNSTUCK & Moving into #Suez Canal after 6 Days!!
Egyptian crew managed to float it moments ago. It’s 5:42 am there: pic.twitter.com/GoMlYjQerL
— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) March 29, 2021
There was widespread hope it was a a turning point in one of the largest and most intense salvage operations in modern history, with the smooth functioning of the global trading system hanging in the balance.
Each day the canal is blocked put global supply chains another day closer to a full-blown crisis.
Vessels packed with the world’s goods — including cars, oil, livestock and laptops — usually flow through the waterway with ease, supplying much of the globe as they traverse the quickest path from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and the East Coast of the United States.
With concerns the salvage operation could take weeks, some ships decided not to wait, turning to take the long way around the southern tip of Africa, a voyage that could add weeks to the journey and more than $26,000 a day in fuel costs.
The army of machine operators, engineers, tugboat captains, and other salvage operators know they are in a race against time.
Late Saturday, tugboat drivers sounded their horns in celebration of the most visible sign of progress since the ship ran aground late Tuesday.
The 220,000-ton ship moved. It did not go far — just two degrees, or about 100 feet, according to shipping officials. That came on top of progress from Friday, when canal officials said dredgers had managed to dig out the rear of the ship, freeing its rudder.
The company that oversees the ship’s operations and crew, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said 11 tugboats were helping, with two joining the struggle on Sunday. Several dredgers, including a specialized suction dredger that can extract 2,000 cubic meters of material per hour, dug around the vessel’s bow, the company said.
Salvagers were determined to free the vessel as the spring tide rolls in, raising the canal’s water level as much as 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.
It is a delicate mission, with crews trying to move the ship without unbalancing it or breaking it apart.
With the Ever Given sagging in the middle, its bow and stern both caught in positions for which they were not designed, the hull is vulnerable to stress and cracks, according to experts. Just as every high tide brought hope the ship could be released, each low tide puts new stresses on the vessel.
Teams of divers have been inspecting the hull throughout the operation and have found no damage, officials said. It would need to be inspected again once it was completely free.
And it would take some time to also inspect the canal itself to ensure safe passage. With hundreds of ships backed up on either side, it could be days before operations return to normal.
Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting.
From the deck of a tugboat in the Suez Canal, where the Egyptian authorities allowed journalists to glimpse the salvage operation for the first time on Saturday, the Ever Given looked like a fallen skyscraper, lights ablaze.
Three boats that barely reached halfway up the word EVERGREEN painted on the ship’s side, for its Taiwan-based operator, had nosed up to its starboard side, keeping it stable.
A powerful tugboat sat near the ship’s stern, waiting for the next attempt to push and pull it out.
Together, the armada of tugboats — their engines churning with the combined power of tens of thousands of horses — have been pushing and pulling at the Ever Given for days.
Then, before dawn on Monday, the ship broke free from the shore and was partially refloated — a moment both shipping and Egyptian officials hoped marked the beginning of the end of the saga.
Once fully afloat, the ship can be easily controlled by tugboats and safely pushed out of the way.
It was a possible turning point in a drama that had been building for days, where optimism seemed to rise and fall like the tides themselves.
With the ship too heavy for tugboats alone, the effort on the water was being aided by teams on land, where cranes that look like playthings in the shadow of the hulking cargo ship have been scooping mountains of earth from the area where the ship’s bow and stern are wedged tight.
As the dredgers worked, a team of eight Dutch salvage experts and naval architects overseeing the operation were surveying the ship and the seabed and creating a computer model to help it work around the vessel without damaging it, said Capt. Nick Sloane, a South African salvage master who led the operation to right the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that capsized in 2012 off the coast of Italy.
If the tugboats, dredgers and pumps are unable to get the job done, they will be joined by a head-spinning array of specialized vessels and machines requiring perhaps hundreds of workers: small tankers to siphon off the ship’s fuel, the tallest cranes in the world to unload containers one by one and, if no cranes are tall enough or near enough, heavy-duty helicopters that can pick up containers of up to 20 tons — though no one has said where the cargo would go. (A full 40-foot container can weigh up to 40 tons.)
All this because, to put it simply: “This is a very big ship. This is a very big problem,” said Richard Meade, the editor in chief of Lloyd’s List, a maritime intelligence publication based in London.
With hopes rising that the partial refloating of the Ever Given means the Suez Canal will soon be reopen for business, shipping analysts cautioned that it will take time — perhaps days — for the hundreds of ships now waiting for passage to continue their journeys.
Shipping analysts estimated the traffic jam was holding up nearly $10 billion in trade every day.
“All global retail trade moves in containers, or 90 percent of it,” said Alan Murphy, the founder of Sea-Intelligence, a maritime data and analysis firm. “Name any brand name, and they will be stuck on one of those vessels.”
The Syrian government said over the weekend that it would begin rationing the use of fuel after the closure of the Suez Canal delayed the delivery of a critical shipment of oil to the war-torn nation.
And in Lebanon, which in recent months has been suffering blackouts amid an economic and political crisis, local news outlets were reporting that the country’s shaky fuel supply risked further disruption if the blockage continued.
With the backlog of ships now stuck outside the canal growing to over 300 on Sunday, the threat to the oil supplies in Lebanon and Syria was an early indication of how quickly the disruption to the smooth functioning of global trade could ripple outward.
Virtually every container ship making the journey from factories in Asia to consumer markets in Europe passes through the channel. So do tankers laden with oil and natural gas.
The shutdown of the canal is affecting as much as 15 percent of the world’s container shipping capacity, according to Moody’s Investor Service, leading to delays at ports around the globe. Tankers carrying 9.8 million barrels of crude, about a tenth of a day’s global consumption, are now waiting to enter the canal, estimates Kpler, a firm that tracks petroleum shipping.
The Syrian Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources said the blockage of the canal had “hindered the oil supplies to Syria and delayed arrival of a tanker carrying oil and oil derivations to Syria.”
Rationing was needed, the ministry said in a statement, “in order to guarantee the continued supply of basic services to Syrians such as bakeries, hospitals, water stations, communication centers, and other vital institutions.”
From the outset, when winds of more than 70 miles per hour whipped up the sands surrounding the Suez Canal into a blinding storm and the Ever Given ran aground, the forces of nature have played an outsize role in the drama that has disrupted the free flow of goods and oil around the planet.
Since the 1,300-foot cargo ship laden with nearly 20,000 containers found itself wedged in the single lane of the canal, salvage teams have had to calculate complicated questions regarding not just engineering and physics, but also meteorology and earth science.
And no natural phenomenon has been as critical as the tides.
“The rising and falling of the sea is a phenomenon upon which we can always depend,” according to the National Ocean Service, which is part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Tides are the regular rise and fall of the sea surface caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun and their position relative to the earth.”
The tides are constant, but they can rise higher and fall lower depending on the location of the sun and moon.
When the sun and moon are in alignment — as was the case with the full moon on Sunday — their combined gravitational pull results in exceptionally high tides, known as Spring Tides.
That is the case at the moment in the Suez, with water levels rising some 18 inches above normal. The most recent high tide peaked at 11:42 a.m., and the next will peak around midnight.
High tides occur 12 hours and 25 minutes apart, according to NOAA. It takes six hours and 12.5 minutes for the water at the shore to go from high to low, or from low to high.
This is the window for salvage crews to free the Ever Given. Each time the tide rises, the 220,000-ton vessel stands a better chance of becoming buoyant, and the scores of tugboats can use the tidal forces to help them in their struggle to free the ship.
But every time the tide falls, new stresses are put on the hull of the ship and the dangers rise.
The tidal flows in the Suez were at their peak Sunday and Monday, meaning this is a critical moment to finally free the ship. If the salvage crews cannot build on their progress to completely free the ship before the day is out, the tides will not be as favorable for weeks.
Cnes 2020, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Khaled Elfiqi/EPA, via Shutterstock
Suez Canal Authority, via Associated Press
EPA, via Shutterstock
Pictures of the ship, from satellite views to those on the ground, reveal the true scale of the issue.
Oil prices fell and then rose again Monday as news reports suggested that the Suez Canal drama might be drawing to a close.
Prices dipped more than 2 percent early in the day after tugboats and dredgers succeeded in partly freeing the giant containership Ever Given, which has been blocking the canal since early last week. News reports raised the prospect that the tankers waiting at the entrances to the canal might be able to transit within days and deliver their cargoes to Europe and Asia.
But then prices crept back up again after the Suez Canal authorities said there was more work to be done before maritime traffic could resume. By midday in London, Brent crude, the international benchmark, was selling for $65.15 a barrel, up 0.9 percent on the day.
The Suez Canal is a key chokepoint for oil shipping, but so far the impact on the oil market of this major interruption of trade flows has been relatively muted. Though prices jumped after shipping on the canal was halted, oil prices still remain below their nearly two-year highs of about $70 a barrel reached earlier this month.
Analysts say that traders are focused on other factors beyond the logjam, including the reimposition of lockdowns in Europe that may hold back the recovery of oil demand from the pandemic.
From a global perspective, oil supplies are considered adequate, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers, the group known as OPEC Plus, are withholding an estimated 8 million barrels a day, or about 9 percent of current consumption, from the market. Officials from OPEC Plus are expected to meet by video conference on Thursday to discuss whether to ease output cuts.
The operators of the Ever Given have said that the vessel ran aground because of the high winds of a sandstorm. While shipping experts said that wind might have been a factor, they also suggested that human error may have come into play.
Egyptian officials offered a similar assessment at a news conference on Saturday.
“A significant incident like this is usually the result of many reasons: The weather was one reason, but maybe there was a technical error, or a human error,” said Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, chief of Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority.
The ship’s operators had said this week that its stacked containers had essentially acted like a giant sail amid the sandstorm.
But villagers in nearby Manshiyet Rugola noted that other ships in the same convoy had passed through the canal without incident. So had previous ships in previous storms, they pointed out.
“We’ve seen worse winds,” said Ahmad al-Sayed, 19, a security guard, “but nothing like that ever happened before.”
Shipping experts have asked the same question.
“I am highly questioning, why was it the only one that went aground?” said Capt. Paul Foran, a marine consultant who has worked on other salvage operations. “But they can talk about all that later. Right now, they just have to get that beast out of the canal.”
General Rabie said that ship captains are asked to keep any material that might be required for an investigation. He noted that 12 northbound ships had passed through the canal ahead of the Ever Given that day, and another 30 ships had traveled through from the opposite direction.
Last year, General Rabie said, 18,840 ships had traversed the canal without an accident.
After 10 years of hard labor — during which tens of thousands of Egyptian workers died — the barrage of the Suez plains reservoir was breached on Nov. 17, 1869.
For the first time, waters of the Mediterranean flowed into the Red Sea and the canal was opened for international navigation. For nearly a century, it was mostly controlled and operated by the French and British.
In 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt nationalized the waterway. But almost as soon as his government took control, it was forced to briefly close after an invasion by an expeditionary force of British, French and Israeli soldiers.
The canal was reopened in 1957 and, firmly under Egyptian control, it became a symbol of the end of the colonial era.
A second closing occurred after the June 1967 War with Israel and lasted until 1975, when Egypt and Israel signed the second disengagement accord.
President Anwar el‐Sadat called the reopening the “the happiest day in my life,” according to an account of the event in The New York Times.
He “stood in an admiral’s white uniform on the bridge of the destroyer Sixth of October as it cut a thin chain across the canal’s entry and sailed south from Port Said harbor at the head of a ceremonial convoy.”
Doves were released to celebrate the moment.
The saying goes that all good things must come to an end. But when it was announced that the ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal for days had been set partially afloat again — and could possibly be freed before the end of the day on Monday — social media users lamented the news.
“PUT IT BACK” became a trending topic on Twitter in the United States.
THERE WAS SOMETHING DEEPLY COMFORTING ABOUT THE BOAT BEING STUCK AND I WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF THEY COULD PUT IT BACK
— NOT A WOLF (@SICKOFWOLVES) March 29, 2021
In the five days that it has blocked the canal, the gargantuan Ever Given had single-handedly snarled global trade, shaking up global shipping paths and costing billions of dollars.
But the light relief that the vessel’s situation had brought to the world? Priceless, in some people’s eyes.
Thousands of people identified with the canal and the vessel’s stubborn determination to stay lodged across the vital waterway.
emotionally, i am the suez canal
— Sara Yasin (@sarayasin) March 24, 2021
Others shared handy guides on how everyone could do their bit to help.
The photo of a tiny digger working away at the mammoth task of trying to unstick the stuck ship firmly established itself as one of the most shareable memes 2021 has produced so far.
And after closely monitoring the situation, many shared their tongue-in-cheek answers to getting the boat dislodged, if only the teams attempting the rescue would listen.
After the news of the partial refloating, how long do internet users have to squeeze in the last of their jokes about the Ever Given? It’s anyone’s guess.
While President Sisi of Egypt declared his countrymen had “succeeded in ending the crisis,” shipping officials warned that the efforts to completely free the vessel were ongoing.
So is the ship still stuck? For the website built specifically for that question, the answer on Monday was: “Sort of?”
The government of Syria has said that it will begin rationing the use of fuel after the closure of the Suez Canal delayed the delivery of a critical shipment of oil to the war-torn nation.
With the log of ships now stuck outside the canal growing to over 300 on Sunday, the threat to the oil supply in Syria was an early indication of the rapidly expanding and escalating ripple effects caused by the disruption of trade through the vital maritime artery.
Already, shipping analysts estimated, the colossal traffic jam was holding up nearly $10 billion in trade every day.
“All global retail trade moves in containers, or 90 percent of it,” said Alan Murphy, the founder of Sea-Intelligence, a maritime data and analysis firm. “Name any brand name, and they will be stuck on one of those vessels.”
the ministry said in a statement, “in order to guarantee the continued supply of basic services to Syrians such as bakeries, hospitals, water stations, communication centers, and other vital institutions.”
As the world absorbed the reality that the Suez Canal will almost certainly remain blocked for at least several more days, hundreds of ships stuck at both ends of the channel on Friday began contemplating a far more expensive alternative: forsaking the channel and heading the long way around Africa.
A journey from the Suez Canal in Egypt to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands — Europe’s largest port — typically takes about 11 days. Venturing south around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope adds at least 26 more days, according to Refinitiv, the financial data company.
The additional fuel charges for the journey generally run more than $30,000 per day, depending on the vessel, or more than $800,000 total for the longer trip. But the other option is sitting at the entrance of the canal and waiting for the mother of all floating traffic jams to dissipate, while incurring so-called demurrage charges — late fees for cargo — that range from $15,000 to $30,000 per day.
“You are either stuck with the commodity and waiting for things to evolve, or you take the cost and you move your commodity, and you free up your ship,” said Amrit Singh, lead shipping analyst at Refinitiv in London. “People have started making decisions.”
surge of orders spurred by the pandemic.
A world whose initial experience with the coronavirus featured the hoarding of toilet paper now braces for fresh shortages of that vital commodity. Like many consumer goods, paper products are transported through the Suez Canal in giant shipping containers.
More than 200 ships are now stuck at either end of the Suez Canal, with no clarity on when they will be able to continue their journeys. Some 80 additional ships are scheduled to arrive over the next three days, Mr. Singh said.
For ships that had been on their way to Europe from Asia and are stuck at the southern end of the canal, the route around Africa involves crossing through an area off Somalia that is rife with piracy. Some ships are carrying security teams that enable them to pass through the piracy zone. Those that lack guards must detour around it, adding three more days to their journeys.
Crews may be unfamiliar with the waters around Africa’s southern tip, where the convergence of warm and cool currents produces turbulent and unpredictable conditions. Early Portuguese navigators called this region “the cape of storms.”
These are the sorts of factors that shipping companies are now considering.
“It is like choosing the queue at the post office,” said Alex Booth, head of research at Kpler. “It is never the right decision.”
Already, seven giant carriers of liquefied natural gas appear to have decided to change course away from the canal, according to Kpler.
One of these ships, chartered by Royal Dutch Shell, had picked up a cargo of gas at Sabine Pass in Texas and was heading toward the canal when it made a sharp turn in the Atlantic Ocean toward Africa. Another, operated by Qatargas, a state energy company, and loaded at Ras Laffan, the Qatar energy hub, was headed for Suez but then veered away toward the Cape of Good Hope before reaching the Red Sea.
Container ships are also changing their plans. HMM, a South Korean shipping company, ordered one of its vessels that was headed to Asia from Britain via the canal to go around Africa instead, according to NOH Ji-hwan, a spokesman for the company.
Mr. Booth said a ship that was already waiting at the canal would be unlikely to backtrack all the way around Africa. That would mean a nearly six-week journey to reach Amsterdam compared with just 13 days from the canal.
If the call is made in the early part of a journey, though, it may make sense. For instance, Kpler estimates that a trip around the cape from the Saudi oil terminal Ras Tanura would require 39 days, versus 24 days by way of Suez.
Ultimately, the decision hinges on an assessment of the time required for engineers to extract the Ever Given, allowing traffic to resume. The most optimistic outlook took a hit on Friday, with the failure of the latest effort to get the enormous ship floating.
“People are saying that something will be done by Sunday,” said Mr. Singh of Refinitiv. “But I have my little doubts. The tide and nautical conditions are more favorable toward the middle of next week.”
JERUSALEM — The sun was rising on the Mediterranean one recent morning when the crew of an Iranian cargo ship heard an explosion. The ship, the Shahr e Kord, was about 50 miles off the coast of Israel, and from the bridge they saw a plume of smoke rising from one of the hundreds of containers stacked on deck.
The state-run Iranian shipping company said the vessel had been heading to Spain and called the explosion a “terrorist act.”
But the attack on the Shahr e Kord this month was just one of the latest salvos in a long-running covert conflict between Israel and Iran. An Israeli official said the attack was retaliation for an Iranian assault on an Israeli cargo ship last month.
Since 2019, Israel has been attacking ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons through the eastern Mediterranean and Red Seas, opening a new maritime front in a regional shadow war that had previously played out by land and in the air.
Iranian efforts to circumvent American sanctions on its oil industry.
But the conflict’s expansion risks the escalation of what has been a relatively limited tit-for-tat, and it further complicates efforts by the Biden administration to persuade Iran to reintroduce limits on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
“This is a full-fledged cold war that risks turning hot with a single mistake,” said Ali Vaez, Iran program director at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization. “We’re still in an escalatory spiral that risks getting out of control.”
Since 2019, Israeli commandos have attacked at least 10 ships carrying Iranian cargo, according to an American official and a former senior Israeli official. The real number of targeted ships may be higher than 20, according to an Iranian Oil Ministry official, an adviser to the ministry and an oil trader.
first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Most of the ships were carrying fuel from Iran to its ally Syria, and two carried military equipment, according to an American official and two senior Israeli officials. An American official and an Israeli official said the Shahr e Kord was carrying military equipment toward Syria.
The Israeli government declined to comment.
has accelerated in recent years. Iran has been arming and financing militias throughout the region, notably in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Gaza and Lebanon, where it supports Hezbollah, a Shiite militia and political movement that is a longtime enemy of Israel.
Israel has tried to counter Iran’s power play by launching regular airstrikes on Iranian shipments by land and air of arms and other cargo to Syria and Lebanon. Those attacks have made those routes riskier and shifted at least some of the weapons transit, and the conflict, to the sea, analysts said.
Israel has also sought to undermine Iran’s nuclear program through assassinations and sabotage on Iranian soil, and both sides are accused of cyberattacks, including a failed Iranian attack on an Israeli municipal water system last April and a retaliatory Israeli strike on a major Iranian port.
Iran’s Quds force was blamed for a bomb that exploded near Israel’s embassy in New Delhi in January. And 15 militants linked to Iran were arrested last month in Ethiopia for plotting to attack Israeli, American and Emirati targets.
The sum is an undeclared conflict that neither side wants to escalate into frontal combat.
a major Iranian nuclear site in July and the assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist last November. Israel has not publicly acknowledged either operation.
The Israeli offensive against Iranian shipping has two goals, analysts and officials said. The first is to prevent Tehran from sending equipment to Lebanon to help Hezbollah build a precision missile program, which Israel considers a strategic threat.
The second is to dry up an important source of oil revenue for Tehran, building on the pressure American sanctions have inflicted. After the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s fuel industry in late 2018, the Iranian government became more reliant on clandestine shipping.
Sima Shine, a former head of research at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.
The attacks typically feature limpet mines and sometimes torpedoes, the American official said. They generally target the ships’ engines or propellers, one Israeli official said. And they are intended to cripple but not sink the ships, the American and Israeli officials said.
a recent oil spill that left tons of tar on the beaches of Israel and Lebanon.
Within Israel, there is concern among maritime experts that the cost of a sea war may exceed its benefit.
While the Israeli Navy can make its presence felt in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, it is less effective in waters closer to Iran. And that could make Israeli-owned ships more vulnerable to Iranian attacks as they pass Iran’s western shores on their way to ports in the Gulf, said Shaul Chorev, a retired Israeli admiral who now heads the Maritime Policy and Strategy Research Center at the University of Haifa.
“Israeli strategic interests in the Persian Gulf and related waterways will undoubtedly grow,” he wrote in a statement, “and the Israeli Navy does not have the capabilities to protect these interests.”
Patrick Kingsley reported from Jerusalem, Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv, Farnaz Fassihi from New York, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.
The 120-mile-long artificial waterway known as the Suez Canal has been a potential flash point for geopolitical conflict since it opened in 1869. Now the canal, a vital international shipping passage, is in the news for a different reason: A quarter-mile-long, Japanese-owned container ship en route from China to Europe has been grounded in the canal for days, blocking more than 100 vessels and sending tremors through the world of maritime commerce.
Here are some basics on the history of the canal, how it operates, how the vessel got stuck and what it means.
Where is the Suez Canal?
The canal is in Egypt, connecting Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean via the southern Egyptian city of Suez on the Red Sea. The passage enables more direct shipping between Europe and Asia, eliminating the need to circumnavigate Africa and cutting voyage times by days or weeks.
a description of the canal by GlobalSecurity.org.
estimated 1.5 million workers.
According to the Suez Canal Authority, the Egyptian government agency that operates the waterway, 20,000 peasants were drafted every 10 months to help construct the project with “excruciating and poorly compensated labor.” Many workers died of cholera and other diseases.
Political tumult in Egypt against the colonial powers of Britain and France slowed progress on the canal, and the final cost was roughly double the initial $50 million projected.
Which country controls the canal now?
The British powers that controlled the canal through the first two world wars withdrew forces there in 1956 after years of negotiations with Egypt, effectively relinquishing authority to the Egyptian government led by President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
first-ever peacekeeping force to the area. The outcome was seen as a triumph for Egyptian nationalism, but its legacy was an undercurrent in the Cold War.
The Suez crisis was also a theme in Season 2, Episode 1 of “The Crown,” the acclaimed Netflix series about Britain’s royals, as the British prime minister at the time, Anthony Eden, struggled over how to respond.
Has the canal ever been closed since then?
Egypt closed the canal for nearly a decade after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, when the waterway was basically a front line between Israeli and Egyptian military forces. Fourteen cargo ships, which became known as the “Yellow Fleet,” were trapped in the canal until it was reopened in 1975 by Mr. Nasser’s successor, Anwar el-Sadat.
A few accidental groundings of vessels have closed the canal since then. The most notable, until this week, was a three-day shutdown in 2004 when a Russian oil tanker ran aground.
Evergreen Shipping line, is one of the world’s largest container ships, about the length of the Empire State Building.
Although the canal was originally engineered to handle much smaller vessels, its channels have been widened and deepened several times, most recently six years ago at a cost of more than $8 billion.
What led to the vessel’s grounding, and what’s being done about it now?
Poor visibility and high winds, which made the Ever Given’s stacked containers act like sails, are believed to have pushed it off course and led to its grounding.
Salvagers have tried a number of remedies: pulling it with tugboats, dredging underneath the hull and using a front-end loader to excavate the eastern embankment, where the bow is stuck. But the vessel’s size and weight, 200,000 metric tons, had frustrated salvagers as of Thursday night.
Some marine salvage experts have said nature might succeed where tugs and dredgers have failed. A seasonal high tide on Sunday or Monday could add roughly 18 inches of depth to the canal, perhaps floating the ship.
What are the ramifications if the Ever Given remains stuck?
That depends on how long the canal, which is believed to handle about 10 percent of global maritime commercial traffic, is closed. TradeWinds, a maritime industry news publication, said that with more than 100 ships waiting to traverse the canal, it could take more than a week just for that backlog to clear.
A prolonged closure could be hugely expensive for the owners of ships waiting to transit the canal. Some may decide to cut their losses and reroute their vessels around Africa.
$5.61 billion in revenue from canal tolls in 2020, also has a vital interest in refloating the Ever Given and reopening the waterway.