(ATF) There was widespread relief in Egypt and along the Suez Canal on Monday afternoon when the giant container vessel Ever Given was refloated and the vital trade artery reopened nearly a week after it became wedged in the side of the canal.
By morning more than 100 ships banked up both north and south of the canal were reported to have gone through the narrow waterway, local officials said.
Salvage teams faced a daunting challenge after the 220,000-tonne ship got stuck in the side of the canal after being blown off course by high winds during a sandstorm, which allegedly reduced visibility.
Dredgers were brought in and dug thousands of cubic metres of mud and sand from beneath the ends of the 400-metre-long ship.
Canal Authority chiefs praised the salvage operation on the MV Ever Given as "record-breaking", claiming it would have taken three months anywhere else in the world.
Canal services provider Leth Agencies said in a tweet the vessel had been "safely escorted to Great Bitter Lake" and was "anchored" ahead of an investigation, beyond the path of other container ships.
"The relief is palpable that we won't see a long-term closure of what is an important trade route," market analyst Michael Hewson at CMC Markets UK said.
In the hours before the ship was dislodged, the tailbacks had reached 425 vessels – a traffic jam that canal officials say will take several days to ease.
Maritime data company Lloyd's List said the blockage had held up an estimated $9.6 billion worth of cargo each day between Asia and Europe, as more than 10% of world trade normally passes through the canal.
In the small canal-side village of Manshiyet al-Rougoula, residents watched in amazement as the immense container ship left the sandy bank.
A father and his family climbed to the roof of their red brick house to get a better view as the ship – laden with at least nine levels of large containers – slowly passed by.
"We are happy to see the boat move (and) thank God," said one resident who asked not to be named.
On social media too, Egyptians greeted the news with jubilation and shared a flurry of memes, including a video montage of a man representing Egypt triumphantly carrying the ship on his shoulders, to applause from the world.
Ahmed Abbas, a Suez canal employee, shared live footage from the scene on his Facebook account, exclaiming: "Praise be to God, the vessel is finally out! Well done to the SCA boys!"
Egypt had lost $12-15 million in transit revenues each day that the ship was stuck, officials said.
Dutch salvage company Boskalis said its "team of experts" had worked in "close collaboration" with the canal authority. The operation, carried out under pressure and "the watchful eye of the world", required 13 tug boats, Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski said.
The freed vessel will undergo "an inspection of its seaworthiness", Taiwanese company Evergreen, the ship's operator, said. "The outcome of that inspection will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service."
The stern was dislodged early on Monday, sparking immediate praise from Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, even as Boskalis warned that the bow would prove more difficult to unwedge.
"Today, Egyptians have been successful in putting to an end the crisis of the stranded ship in the Suez Canal, despite the enormous complexity surrounding the process," Sisi said.
Salvage crews have worked around the clock since the accident, which the canal authority said may have also been caused by human or technical error.
Rescue teams had focused on efforts to remove sand around the ship, which was dredged up to a depth of 18 metres (59 feet).
The crisis forced companies to choose between waiting or rerouting vessels around the southern tip of Africa, which adds 9,000 kilometres (5,500 miles) and over a week of travel to the trip between Asia and Europe.
With reporting by AFP