Suez Canal blocked by ‘super-stuck’ container ship

Tugs and diggers are working to refloat a container ship that has blocked Egypt’s Suez Canal. The owner of the 400m-long (1312ft) vessel says it ran aground sideways after being hit by strong winds. Several attempts to refloat it have failed.

Julianne Cona, onboard Maersk Denver, witnessed the event.

“They cut us off this morning entering the canal and then this happened,” Cona says. “Right after they ran aground the ship behind us lost power and almost hit us, so it’s been a fun day.

“Now we are just anchored here. Hopefully it won’t be too long but from the looks of it, that ship is ‘super-stuck’. They had a bunch of tugs trying to pull and push it earlier but it was going nowhere. There is a little excavator trying to dig out the bow.”

Courtesy of Suez Canal Authority

Egypt says it has reopened the canal’s older channel to divert traffic, amid fears it could remain blocked for days, according to the BBC.

The incident has created long tailbacks on the waterway already. The Ever Given, registered in Panama, was bound for Rotterdam from China.

The 400m long, 200,000 tonne ship, has blocked the path of other vessels in both directions.

According to The Guardian Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area Tuesday, with winds gusting as much as 50 kph (31 mph).

“All crew are safe and accounted for,” Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which manages the Ever Given, told the paper. “There have been no reports of injuries or pollution.”

Courtesy of AIS data

About 10% of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.

Evergreen Marine said the ship was “suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to deviate… and accidentally hit the bottom and run aground”.

The Suez Canal Authority says it is working to refloat the ship, using rescue and tug units. Its chairman, Admiral Osama Rabie, also says an older section of the canal has been reopened to ease the bottleneck.

Dr Sal Mercogliano, a maritime historian based in the US state of North Carolina, told the BBC that incidents such as this were rare, but could have “huge ramifications for global trade”.

“This is the largest vessel ever to go aground in the Suez Canal,” he says.

“If they are unable to pull her free… in a high tide, they are going to have to start removing cargo.”

Flavio Macau, a senior lecturer in supply chain management at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, told The Guardian one problem was that container ships had become much bigger in recent years, too big even for the Panama Canal.

“Moving about 50 ships a day, the impacts of a stranded ship are negligible unless it takes weeks to float it,” says Macau. “But that is very unlikely and it should be over in a couple of days, tops.”

Experts warn the operation to move the Ever Given, which could include removing large amounts of sand from around the areas where the vessel is grounded, may take days.

According to the Suez Canal Authority, an average 51.5 ships pass through the canal per day.

Port agent GAC says that 15 other ships in the northbound convoy behind the Ever Given were detained at anchorages waiting for the canal to be cleared.

A southbound convoy was also blocked. This means a growing number of tankers have gathered near the entrance to the canal, waiting to pass.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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