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Suez Canal blockade: Fears mount over calamity worsening

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A huge container ship blocking the Suez Canal like a “beached whale” may take weeks to free, the salvage company has said, as officials have stopped all ships entering the channel in a new setback for global trade.

But there are fears of rising piracy among others as efforts at dreading have been slow and tortuous and the calamity may get even worse.

Every day, there is another backlog; these ships are sitting there at risk, says the International Maritime Bureau.

The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez and dividing Africa and Asia.

The Suez Canal handles about 10 per cent of international maritime trade and is one of the world’s busiest waterways, providing a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo shipping between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

The 400 metre EverGreen, almost as long as the Empire State Building is high, blocking transit in both directions through one of the world’s busiest shipping channels for oil and refined fuels, grain and other trade linking Asia and Europe.

Dredgers late on Thursday were still working to remove thousands of tonnes of sand from around the ship’s bow.

The Suez Canal Authority said earlier that nine tugs were working to move the vessel, which got stuck diagonally across the single-lane southern stretch of the canal on Tuesday morning amid high winds and a dust storm.

“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,” Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis, one of two rescue teams trying to free the ship, told the Dutch television programme “Nieuwsuur”.

A total of 206 large container ships, tankers carrying oil and gas, and bulk vessels hauling grain have backed up at either end of the canal, according to tracking data, creating one of the worst shipping jams seen for years.

The blockage comes on top of the disruption to world trade already caused in the past year by COVID-19, with trade volumes hit by high rates of ship cancellations, shortages of containers and slower handling speeds at ports.

The world’s number one line AP Moller Maersk said it was considering diverting vessels around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, adding five to six days to the journey between Asia and Europe.

It said time-sensitive cargo could be sent on trains and airplanes, although no decisions had yet been made.

The SCA, which had allowed some vessels to enter the canal in the hope the blockage could be cleared, said it had temporarily suspended all traffic on Thursday.

Maersk said in a customer advisory it had seven vessels affected.

Berdowski said the ship’s bow and stern had been lifted up against either side of the canal.

“It is like an enormous beached whale. It’s an enormous weight on the sand. We might have to work with a combination of reducing the weight by removing containers, oil and water from the ship, tug boats and dredging of sand.”

Dredging work to remove 15,000-20,000 cubic metres of sand surrounding the bow continued after dark on Thursday, in coordination with the team from Boskalis subsidiary Smit Salvage, the SCA said.

The dredging work, which began on Wednesday evening and has involved two dredgers, aims to return the ship to a draft of 12-16 metres at which it could be refloated, the authority said.

Japanese shipowner Shoei Kisen apologised for the incident and said work on freeing the ship, which was heading to Europe from China, “has been extremely difficult” and it was not clear when the vessel would float again.

Another official with knowledge of the operation said that was likely to take days. “If you end up in the scenario that you have to remove cargo then you are looking at a time consuming exercise,” he said, declining to be named.

A higher tide due on Sunday may help the rescue efforts.

However, the Egyptian meteorological authority is also warning of a “disruption of marine navigation” due to an expected sea storm on Saturday and Sunday, with winds forecast to reach up to 80 kph (50 mph) and waves up to 6 metres high along the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez.

About 30 per cent of the world’s shipping container volume transits through the 193 km (120 mile) Suez Canal daily, and about 12 per cent of total global trade of all goods.

“Every port in Western Europe is going to feel this,” Leon Willems, a spokesman for Rotterdam Port, Europe’s largest, said. “We hope for both companies and consumers that it will be resolved soon.”

Consultancy Wood Mackenzie said the biggest impact was on container shipping, but there were also a total of 16 laden crude and product oil tankers due to sail through the canal and now delayed.

The tankers were carrying 870,000 tonnes of crude and 670,000 tonnes of clean oil products such as gasoline, naphtha and diesel, it said.

Russia and Saudi Arabia are the top two exporters of oil through the canal, while India and China are the main importers, oil analytics firm Vortexa said.

“The biggest fear of any vessel is remaining static. That’s going to start raising huge concerns for these shipping companies,” Joshua Hutchinson, general manager at ARX Mouldings said.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, politically motivated attacks on both sides of the Suez are a grave concern.

“Piracy is not an issue in that part of that world; terrorism is probably the biggest threat,” said Chris Long, intelligence director for Neptune P2P, a security consultancy focused on maritime safety.

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Tesla driverless car explodes after crashing into tree

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Two men have died after a Tesla vehicle, which was believed to be operating without anyone in the driver’s seat, crashed into a tree on Saturday night north of Houston, authorities said.

After the fire was extinguished, authorities located two occupants in the vehicle, with one in the front passenger seat and the other in the back seat of the Tesla

The accident came amid growing scrutiny over Tesla’s semi-automated driving system following recent accidents.

The US auto safety agency said in March it had opened 27 investigations into crashes of Tesla vehicles.

“There was no-one in the driver’s seat,” Sergeant Cinthya Umanzor of the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 said.

The 2019 Tesla Model S was travelling at high speed when it failed to negotiate a curve and went off the road, crashing into a tree and bursting into flames, local television station KHOU-TV said.

Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in January that he expected huge profits from the company’s full self-driving software, saying he was “highly confident the car will be able to drive itself with reliability in excess of human this year”.

Experts say the self-driving technology must overcome safety and regulatory hurdles to achieve commercial success.

-Reuters

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We resisted governors’ pressure to borrow for March shortfall – Zainab Ahmed

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Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, has said the Federal Government rejection a suggestion by state governors to borrow from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to augment the N50 billion federation account allocation committee (FAAC) shortfall in March.

She stated this on Monday while featuring on the Good Morning Nigeria programme, a daily breakfast show on the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).

Recall that Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki had alleged that the FG printed N60 billion to support March federal allocation to states.

But the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, dismissed Obaseki’s claim describing it as “unfortunate and totally inappropriate.”

Ahmed said that whenever there was a reduction in federal allocation, the Federal Government would take money from some reserve accounts, adding however that in the case of March allocation which fell short by N50 billion, all state governments were asked to manage their resources.

“It is a difficult time, I can explain to you how difficult it is not just for the Federal Government but also for the states, we see increasing reduction in our FAAC revenue,” she said.

The minister also said, “In the month of March, we had a shortfall of FAAC that is almost about N50 billion and we did not have enough accrued in any of those accounts, the states to be honest wanted us to borrow from the Central Bank, but we resisted, we just told everybody to go back to live within what they had.

“So it was very surprising for us when we heard a sitting governor saying that the CBN had printed money for FAAC; that was very unfortunate because it is not true.”

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Mercedes-Benz stuns with another seven-seater crossover SUV

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A few days after Mercedes-Benz revealed what it calls the mother of all electric vehicles in the form of the sophisticated EQS luxury sedan, it has added another stunning product to the Mercedes-EQ family of cars, the EQB.

This is a seven-seater, crossover sport utility vehicle that is to the GLB-class what the EQA is to the GLA.

Car and Driver in a report quotes the premium German automaker as saying the EQB is based on the GLB crossover.

Mercedes-Benz EQ is a series of battery electric vehicles manufactured by Mercedes-Benz. The first model was previewed at the Paris Motor Show in 2016 with the Generation EQ concept vehicle.

The EQB will be launched first in China, where it debuts in a luxuriously equipped all-wheel-drive version with AMG Line styling.

Europe is to have it next in three versions: front- and all-wheel-drive models and a range-optimizing mid-level EQB.

The new vehicle will however not be released to the US market until next year.

While the sheet metal and glass are identical, the styling department under Gorden Wagener has cleaned up the exterior for a more contemporary and sophisticated look.

The front is graced by the trademark EQ headlight/fascia assembly, with a horizontal light bar stretching over the entire width.

This element is reflected on the tail end, which boasts a horizontal light strip as well.

There are EQ-specific colours and wheels, and there will be a choice of regular or AMG-Line front and rear bumpers.

The interior is carried over from the GLB as well, but it comes with EQ-exclusive color and trim options, including rose gold (pictured here), one of Wagener’s favorite colors.

Due to the battery packs in the floor, interior space suffers a bit: Daimler cautions that the third row will only work for people up to 5’5″ and the trunk shrinks considerably.

That said, the EQB is still a crossover SUV that offers more space than usual for its exterior dimensions.

The EQB was unveiled in China, and it will be launched there first as a fully loaded model with a standard AMG Line look, all-wheel drive, and two motors that make a combined 288 horsepower.

Europe will get both the EQB350 4Matic with around 268 horsepower and the front-wheel-drive EQB250 with 221 horsepower; there will also be a mid-level version designed as a long-range model. Both China and Europe will see the EQB at dealers within the 2021 calendar year.

The US will have to wait until 2022, and the company is mum about the possible powertrain options.

Car and Driver says, “What we can deduce from our experience with the EQA is that even the least powerful versions of the EQB will come in at around 4500 pounds, which we hope won’t translate into plodding, cumbersome handling characteristics, even if that would feel a bit less out of place in a people hauler like the EQB than in a compact hatch like the EQA.

“There will be no true AMG version, unlike on the EQS and the EQE. However, we’ll suspend judgment until we can drive it.”

 

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