More than 200 large container ships, tankers carrying oil and gas, and bulk vessels hauling grain have backed up at either end of the canal.

A collage of satellite image of the ship stuck in Suez Canal and the attempts to move the shipPlanet Labs, Suez Canal Authority
news Suez Blockage Friday, March 26, 2021 - 10:51

Traffic along one of the world's most important trade routes has been at a standstill since the MV Ever Green ran aground. Dislodging the 400-meter long vessel could take weeks, one rescue company said.

An excavator on the edge of the Suez Canal Bank digging the bow of the MV Ever Given free

A second day of digging as excavation trucks do their best to dislodge the MV Ever Given, one of the largest freight vessels in the world

Traffic has been suspended for a second day while authorities work to free one of the world's largest freight ships which has run aground on a bank of the Suez Canal. 

More than 200 large container ships, tankers carrying oil and gas, and bulk vessels hauling grain have backed up at either end of the canal as efforts to dislodge the MV Ever Given, a Panama-flagged container ship were still underway.

It may take "weeks" to free the ship, according to one of the salvage companies.

"We can't exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation," said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis, one of two rescue teams trying to free the ship.

"It is like an enormous beached whale. It's an enormous weight on the sand. We might have to work with a combination of reducing the weight by removing containers, oil and water from the ship, tug boats, and dredging of sand," he told Dutch television program Nieuwsuur.

Freeing the vessel

With the bow plowed into one of the banks of the canal, an excavator has dug into the bank as dredgers have tried to clear silt around the ship and up to nine tugboats, hugging the sides of the ship, trying to gain momentum to bring the ship afloat.

The 400-meter (1,300-foot) long and 59-meter wide vessel is lodged sideways, making it impossible for other ships to pass along the narrow stretch of the canal.

Ships already stuck behind the Ever Given will be reversed back to Port Suez to free the channel, Leth Agencies said.

What caused the blockage?

The ship, "accidentally ran aground after a suspected gust of wind hit it," said the ship's operator. The incident occurred at around 7:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Bernhard Shulte Management said.

Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area Tuesday, with winds gusting as much as 50 kilometers (30 miles) per hour.

"Initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding,'' the management company Leth Agencies said.

A formal apology

Acknowledging the global turmoil that the blockage, the ship's owner issued a formal apology. "We would like to apologize to all parties affected by this incident," said Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd.

The Ever Given is currently facing "extreme difficulty" in refloating the ship, the owner said.

"When a vessel runs aground Suez Canal officials are alone empowered to order and direct all operations required to get the vessel afloat," according to the Suez Canal Authority Rules of Navigation. "Nevertheless managers remain responsible for all damages and accidents of any kind," it adds. 

A crucial waterway

The waterway, through which around 10% of global maritime trade flows, provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas, and cargo being shipped from East to West. Close to 19,000 ships used the canal last year, carrying more than 1 billion tons of cargo, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

Lloyd's List, a famed shipping journal, estimates that the closure will prevent $9 billion dollars (7.6 billion euros) from passing through the canal each day.

A.P. Moller Maersk, the world's largest container shipping company, said it was considering diverting vessels around Africa's Cape of Good Hope, adding five to six days to the journey between Asia and Europe. Other time-sensitive cargo could be sent by trains and airplanes, it said.

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