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.
By Saturday afternoon, they had dredged 18 meters down into the canal’s eastern bank. But officials cautioned that the ship’s bow remained firmly planted in the soil and that the operation still faced significant hurdles.
The company that oversees the ship’s operations and crew, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said 11 tugboats were helping, with two joined 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.
The ship’s manager said that in addition to the tugboats and dredgers, high-capacity pumps will draw water from the vessel’s ballast tanks to lighten the ship.
Salvagers were determined to free the vessel as the spring tide rolled in, raising the canal’s water level as much as 18 inches, analysts and shipping agents said.
It was a delicate mission, with crews trying to move the ship without unbalancing it or breaking it apart.