Skyscraper-sized cargo ship wedged across the Suez Canal is blocking global shipping

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A skyscraper-sized cargo ship wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal continues to block global shipping. At least 150 other vessels are sitting idle waiting for the obstruction to be cleared, authorities said.

The Ever Given is a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe. It ran aground on Tuesday 23 March in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula.

Evergreen Marine Corp, a Taiwan-based company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea. None of its containers had sunk.

Resolution

Efforts to free the ship using dredgers, digging and the aid of high tides are yet to push the container vessel aside.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, offered a written apology on Thursday 25 March, saying:

We are determined to keep on working hard to resolve this situation as soon as possible. We would like to apologise to all parties affected by this incident, including the ships travelling and planning to travel through Suez Canal.

Authorities began work again to free the vessel on Thursday morning after halting for the night, an Egyptian canal authority official said.

Read on...

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Setback

The stranding is the latest setback for mariners amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. It’s seen hundreds of thousands of people stuck aboard vessels due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, demands on shipping have increased, adding to the pressure on tired sailors.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the company that manages the Ever Given, said the ship’s 25-member crew was safe and accounted for. The ship had two pilots from Egypt’s canal authority aboard to guide it when the grounding happened at around 7.45am on Tuesday, the company said.

Implications

The Suez closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East. These shipments rely on the canal to avoid sailing around Africa.

Shipping journal Lloyd’s List estimated that each day the canal is closed disrupts £6.6bn of goods that should be passing through the waterway. A quarter of Suez Canal traffic comes from container ships like the Ever Given, the journal said.

Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo. It also remains one of Egypt’s top foreign currency earners.

In 2015, the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi completed a major expansion of the canal. The expansion was to allow the canal to accommodate the world’s largest vessels. However, the Ever Given ran aground south of that new portion of the canal. With a length of nearly 400 metres, or a quarter of a mile, and a width of 193 feet, it’s among the largest cargo ships in the world.

Blockage

Canal service provider Leth Agencies said at least 150 ships were waiting for blockage to clear. These include vessels near Port Said in the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez in the Red Sea and those already stuck in the canal system on Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake.

Cargo ships already behind the Ever Given in the canal will reverse south to Port Suez to free the channel, Leth Agencies said. Authorities hope to do the same to the Ever Given when they can free it.

Suez Canal blocked by container ship
(PA Graphics)

Causes

Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area on 23 March, with winds gusting as high as 30mph.

An initial report suggested the ship suffered a power blackout before the incident. But this is something Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement denied on 25 March. The company said:

Initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding

It was the second major crash involving the Ever Given in recent years. In 2019, the ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe River in the German port of Hamburg. Authorities blamed strong wind for the collision, which severely damaged the ferry.

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