Stuck ship in Suez Canal imperils shipping worldwide, with over 150 vessels waiting to pass

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At least 150 ships are sitting idle waiting for the Ever Given to be freed.

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Suez Canal Authority boats come to the assistance of the Ever Given


Source: Suez Canal Authority via PA Images

A SKYSCRAPER-SIZED cargo ship wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal has further imperilled global shipping as at least 150 other vessels idled while waiting for the obstruction to clear, authorities have said.

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

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

Authorities began work again to free the vessel this morning after halting for the night, an Egyptian canal authority official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said workers hoped to avoid offloading containers from the vessel as it would be a days-long effort to do so.

So far, dredgers have tried to clear silt around the massive ship. Tug boats nudged the vessel alongside it, trying to gain momentum. From the shore, at least one backhoe dug into the canal’s sandy banks, suggesting the bow of the ship had plowed into it.

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

Canal service provider Leth Agencies said at least 150 ships were waiting for the Ever Given to be cleared, including vessels near Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea, Port Suez on 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 be reversed south back 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.

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Canal chiefs assess the situation


Source: Suez Canal Authority via PA Images

Evergreen Marine Corp, a major Taiwan-based shipping 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.

An Egyptian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief journalists, similarly blamed a strong wind.

Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area on Tuesday, with winds gusting as high as 30 miles per hour.

An initial report suggested the ship suffered a power blackout before the incident, something Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement denied today.

“Initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding,” the company said.

Tuesday marked the second major crash involving the Ever Given in recent years.

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In 2019, the cargo ship ran into a small ferry moored on the Elbe River in the German port city of Hamburg. Authorities at the time blamed strong wind for the collision, which severely damaged the ferry.

The closure could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Mideast, which rely on the canal to avoid sailing around Africa. The price of international benchmark Brent crude stood at more than $63 a barrel today.

The Ever Given, built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 metres, or a quarter of a mile, and a width of 193 feet, is among the largest cargo ships in the world.

It can carry some 20,000 containers at a time. It previously had been at ports in China before heading toward Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

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, allowing it to accommodate the world’s largest vessels. However, the Ever Given ran aground south of that new portion of the canal.

This stranding marks just the latest setback to affect mariners amid the Covid crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people having been stuck aboard vessels due to the pandemic.

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

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