Roundup: Suez Canal blocked by huge container ship after dust storm

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CAIRO, March 24 (Xinhua) — One of the world’s largest cargo containers has run aground in the new channel of the Suez Canal after being blown off course by a dust storm, causing a divert of other huge vessels to the old channel to ease the traffic.

“The 224,000-ton Ever Given, a Panama-flagged container ship coming from China to Rotterdam, was grounded early Tuesday in the new passage after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm,” the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Egypt has been hit by a sand storm with heavy winds that reached up to 40 knots since the early hours of Tuesday.

“Eight tug boats were continuing to free the 400-meter-long and 59-meter-wide vessel that has turned sideways in the Suez Canal,” the SCA added.

Operated by the transport company Evergreen Marine, the vessel blocked a 22-mile parallel channel opened in 2015, through which about 50 ships passed on a daily basis in 2019, according to Egyptian government statistics.

According to the SCA’s statement, “an older channel of the canal was reopened to ease the bottleneck of marine traffic caused by the incident.”

“Navigation in the old channel is working regularly now,” it said, adding that the authority was sparing no effort to ensure regular navigation through the canal and to serve the world trade movement.

The canal has very strong and well-equipped carriers that are able to move the grounded vessel swiftly to another angel, said Abdel Tawab Hagag, former economic advisor to the SCA.

This is not the first accident of its kind that happened in the Suez Canal, the expert said, noting that such accidents are common and mainly caused by sudden technical problems of the vessels while passing through the canal.

He stressed the authority has emergency plans to tackle such accidents, but the length of the vessel, its malfunction, and the high speed of wind all caused the ship to be lodged sideways.

Only 15 container ships have been strained in the watercourse while many other vessels are waiting now in Port Said, Hagag said.

According to Evergreen Marine, the ship was suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind which caused the hull to deviate and accidentally hit the bottom and run aground, and all crew members are safe. “There have been no reports of injuries or pollution.”

Ships have been grounded in the canal before. In 2017, a Japanese ship became stuck and was refloated within hours.

The Suez Canal is a major lifeline for global seaborne trade since it allows ships to travel between Europe and South Asia without navigating around Africa, thereby reducing the sea voyage distance between Europe and India by about 7,000 kilometers.

Some 12 percent of the world trade volume passes through the man-made waterway, which is a major source of hard currency in Egypt. Enditem

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