This satellite imagery released by Maxar Technologies shows tug boats and dredgers on Saturday attempting to free the Taiwan-operated MV Ever Given lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across Egypt's Suez Canal. - AFP

SUEZ, Egypt: Hope rose yesterday salvage efforts would free a mammoth container ship blocking the Suez Canal for six days, crippling international trade and causing losses worth millions of dollars. The MarineTraffic and VesselFinder applications said two tugboats were on their way to the vital waterway to help the salvage operation, while experts pinned hope on a high tide to dislodge the vessel.

The Italian-flagged Carlo Magno and the Dutch-flagged Alp Guard were in the Red Sea en route to the Suez Canal, the ship-tracking websites said. The MV Ever Given, which is longer than four football fields, has been wedged diagonally across the span of the canal since Tuesday, blocking the waterway in both directions. The crisis has forced companies to reconsider re-routing vessels around Africa's Cape of Good Hope, a longer and more expensive way to travel between Asia and Europe.

Billions of dollars of cargo are now stalled at either end of the Suez Canal and each passing day results in millions of dollars in losses for Egypt and commercial enterprises around the world. Several notes of optimism were struck on Saturday, including from Suez Canal Authority chief Osama Rabie, who told a news conference that the megaship could be afloat by night.

"We could finish today or tomorrow (Sunday), depending on the ship's responsiveness" to high tides, he said, adding that 14 tugboats were deployed around the stricken vessel. Rabie later told an Egyptian news channel the ship "moved 30 degrees from left and right" for the first time late Saturday.

"It is a good sign," he said. Hopes have been pinned on the spring high tide expected to start in the night. "If they don't manage to dislodge it during that high tide, the next high tide is not there for another couple of weeks, and that becomes problematic," Plamen Natzkoff, an expert at VesselsValue, has said.

Despite some predictions that the megaship could be refloated soon, Lloyd's List, a shipping data and news company, said Sunday there was a "surge" in the number of vessels opting to go around Africa. "Most major container lines are now diverting ships round Cape of Good Hope and warning of supply chain disruption ahead. Some are starting to reject bookings," it said on Twitter.

'Human error'

Richard Meade, an editor at Lloyd's List, added: "Sources close to the salvage operation told me this morning that optimism within the team of experts on site was rising and they were hoping that the vessel could be moved within the next 24-48 hours. But the lines have clearly made their call already." The 400-metre (1,300-foot) long, 200,000-tonne MV Ever Given, veered off course in the Suez Canal on Tuesday, with officials blaming 40-knots gusts and a sandstorm for the accident.

But Rabie on Saturday said "technical or human errors" could be behind the grounding of the Taiwan-run, Panama-flagged container ship near the southern end of the canal. Almost as long as New York's Empire State Building is high, the ship is diagonally blocking the 193-kilometre (120-mile) long canal, and more than 320 ships are stalled at either end, Rabie said. Egypt is losing some $12-14 million in revenue from the canal for each day it is closed, Rabie added, while Lloyd's List has said the blockage is holding up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe.

In a sign of the knock-on effects, Syrian authorities said Saturday they had been forced to ration already scarce fuel supplies, as the Suez suspension "has impacted oil imports to Syria and slowed arrival of a ship carrying fuel and oil products". And Romania's animal health agency said Saturday that 11 ships carrying livestock out of the country were affected by the blockage. NGO Animals International warned of a potential "tragedy" affecting some 130,000 animals. - AFP