Suez Canal blocked with giant ship stuck in top trade artery

The Suez Canal is blocked by a large container ship in Cairo Egypt 24 March 2021

"Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways looks like we might be here for a little bit", user fallenhearts17 posted on Instagram on Tuesday, accompanied by an alarming image of a huge container vessel sitting astride the Suez Canal.

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

The incident has already created long tailbacks on the waterway, stopping dozens of other vessels from passing.

Cargo ships and oil tankers appeared to be lining up at the southern end of the Suez Canal, waiting to be able to pass through the waterway to the Mediterranean Sea, according to MarineTraffic data.

The ultra large container ship Ever Given has a carrying capacity of 20,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and was en route from Yantian, China, to the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands when it reportedly ran aground Tuesday morning. None of the vessels before it were affected, but the 15 behind it were detained at anchorages waiting for the Canal to be cleared. Some 18 hours later, the Evergreen ship had not budged.

Around 10% of the world's trade flows through the waterway and it remains one of Egypt's top foreign currency earners.

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

Graphic shows the build up of traffic in the Suez Canal Egypt
A huge container ship has accidentally blocked the Suez Canal, one of the world's key shipping lanes

Evergreen Marine Corp, the Taiwan-based shipping company which operates the vessel, said the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the Suez Canal from the Red Sea, but none of its containers had sunk.

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

And on Vessel Finder, maps show Ever Given's slow progress in getting unstuck from its current position. Several tug boats surrounded the ship, likely attempting to push it the right way, the data showed.

On a daily basis, about 600,000 barrels of crude or less flow from the Middle East to Europe and the US via the canal, while volumes from the Atlantic Basin to Asia total about 850,000 barrels a day, according to Anoop Singh, head of East of Suez tanker research at Braemar ACM Shipbroking Pte.

In 2017, a Japanese container vessel blocked the canal after it ran aground following reported mechanical issues. The ship was traveling northward through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean from the Red Sea when it reportedly lost power.

The Suez Canal is especially important to the shipment of oil. It's 120 miles long, 79 feet deep, and 673 feet wide.

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