The Ever Given, a container ship almost as long as the Empire State Building, ran aground in the Egyptian Channel on Tuesday after being hit by 40-knot winds and a sandstorm.

It is now hoped that tugs can use the winds and tides on Saturday to displace the 224,000-ton ship, Suez Canal Authority (SCA) head Osama Rabie told Egyptian news agency Youm7.

The towing and towing maneuvers for the ship began on Friday evening when nine tug boats pulled at the front of the huge container ship after the dredging was completed, Rabie said.

He added that towing maneuvers require the availability of several factors, including wind and tides.

The US Navy in the Middle East is also planning to send an assessment team of dredging experts to the Suez Canal on Saturday to advise local authorities trying to free the gigantic container ship, according to two US defense officials.

More than 260 ships are waiting to transit through the blocked waterway – including 13 carrying cattle – with the total number expected to rise as the crisis progresses, maritime surveillance website Marine Traffic told CNN.

The blockade on one of the busiest and most important waterways in the world could have a significant impact on already extensive global supply chains, with disruptions escalating every day.

If the last attempt to get the ship afloat again fails, the 400-meter-long and 59-meter-wide ship could still be freed according to plans from “early next week,” according to the head of a Dutch salvage company.

Peter Berdowski of Boskalis, a sister company of the Dutch company SMIT Salvage, told the Dutch television news program “Nieuwsuur” that their Plan A is to try to wrestle the ship without removing containers from the deck.

“There are two heavy tractors on the way,” he said on Friday evening. “Together they have about 400 tons of pulling power. So these are really big guys. They’re arriving this weekend.”

Above all, a more thorough investigation showed that the stern of the ship was “not completely pressed into the clay”. That would allow tugs to take advantage of leverage by pulling on the stern, he said.

He said the hope was that her pulling power – combined with the ongoing dredging work, a 40 to 50 centimeter tide over the next week, and the relatively free “leverage” of the ship’s stern – would be enough to free her up the ship sometime early next week. “

If that fails, Berdowski also came up with a plan B.

“At the same time, we are already mobilizing a crane,” he said. “This will also be delivered this weekend, which will allow us to remove containers from the front of the ship.”

He said this would potentially involve removing as many as 600 containers to facilitate cargo at the bow of the ship and thus on the canal bank.

“Removing it from the ship is one thing, but you have to get rid of those 600 containers somewhere,” he said. “There’s only desert right next to the ship. So removing these containers will also be a mystery.”

That could mean a further delay of days. “But the most important thing is that we basically do everything in a logical order to take the necessary steps,” said Berdowski.

His optimistic forecast will be welcome news to many. Shipping experts warned earlier this week that it could take days or even weeks for the ship to be liberated.

Fears about the cattle

Meanwhile, billions of dollars’ worth of vital cargo and sensitive products have been left behind on the ships whose route is blocked, including ships carrying cattle for various countries in Europe and Asia.

The EU director of the NGO Animals International, Gabriel Paun, warned that thousands of animals transported on 13 ships – mainly Romanian – could be at risk of death if the situation is not clarified in the next few days.

More ships carrying cattle are currently approaching the Suez Canal, Paun said.

“We are facing a major tragedy if the canal is not opened in the next 24 hours because there are ships that are going to run out of breath [livestock] Food and water for the next two days, “said Paun.

Some ships have food and water left for six days and “if they decide to return to Romania today they have a chance – but if the blockade lasts two to six days we will have a disaster,” added Paun.

A ship carrying cattle, the Nabolsi, has been sailing for 21 days after leaving Colombia on March 6 and is now waiting to cross the blocked channel with animals on board, said maritime transport spokesman Georgios Hatzimanolis.

Every day that goes by is costly to businesses and countries whose trade has been held up by the deadlock. About 12% of world trade flows through the Suez Canal and typically around 10 billion US dollars in cargo is handled every day.

More than 18,800 ships with a net tonnage of 1.17 billion tons passed through the canal in 2020. That is an average of 51.5 ships per day.

Diversion of ships

At least 10 ships, including oil and LNG tankers and container ships, had been diverted from the canal by Friday, according to Marine Traffic and data intelligence company Kpler.

“There are already several ships … that are bypassing [the route from the Mediterranean into the canal] and go south now … the time is right to make that decision, “said Lars Jensen, director of Sea Intelligence Consulting, a company that advises the maritime industry.

“So at the moment it seems like the ships are waiting in line [in the canal]would just cross [their] Fingers and hope this is resolved, “he added.

The Indian government said Friday it had advised its shipping companies to investigate the possibility of diversion of ships across the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa while the situation in the channel was resolved, according to a statement from India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

It has been found that such a redirect typically takes an additional 15 days.

This Suez Canal route is used by Indian exporters and importers to trade with North America, South America and Europe valued at $ 200 billion, the statement said. The ministry added that it would identify and prioritize perishable cargo for movement.

Even before Ever Ever ran aground, the global supply chains had reached their limits, which made the worldwide turnover of goods considerably more expensive and led to bottlenecks in some products. Blocking the key route between Asia, Europe and North America for a long period of time would only make matters worse.

Toshiaki Fujiwara, senior managing director of Shoei Kisen KK, discussed the issue of potential damages claims and said Friday that “the company has not received any claims at this point,” adding that “it may need one [to] two or more years to find these details. “

Evergreen Marine, the Taiwanese company that operates the ship, has alleged that Shoei Kisen KK was responsible for the accident, Fujiwara confirmed.

Magdy Samaan reported from Cairo, Mostafa Salem from Abu Dhabi and Mick Krever from London, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Jessie Yeung, Sugam Pokharel, Tim Lister and Pamela Boykoff contributed to this report.