15th July 2024

A cargo container ship that’s among the largest in the world has turned sideways and blocked all traffic in Egypt’s Suez Canal, officials said Wednesday, threatening to disrupt a global shipping system already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

The MV Ever Given, a Panama-flagged container ship that carries trade between Asia and Europe, became grounded Tuesday in the narrow, man-made waterway dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the Ever Given to turn sideways in the canal. GAC, a global shipping and logistics company, described the Ever Given as suffering “a blackout while transiting in a northerly direction,” without elaborating.

Strong wind

Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement provided to The Associated Press that 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.

An Egyptian official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists, similarly blamed a strong wind in the area for the incident. 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,” said Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which manages the Ever Given. “There have been no reports of injuries or pollution.” The management company denied the ship ever lost power.

The Ever Given’s bow was touching the canal’s eastern wall, while its stern looked lodged against its western wall, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com. Several tug boats surrounded the ship, likely attempting to push it the right way, the data showed.

An image posted to Instagram by a user on another waiting cargo ship appeared to show the Ever Given wedged across the canal as shown in the satellite data. A backhoe appeared to be digging into the sand bank under its bow in an effort to free it.

The Egyptian official said tugboats hoped to refloat the ship and that the operation would take at least two days. The ship ran aground some 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the southernly mouth of the canal near the city of Suez, an area of the canal that’s a single lane.

That could have a major knock-on effect for global shipping moving between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, warned Salvatore R. Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner and associate professor of history at North Carolina’s Campbell University.

“Every day, 50 vessels on average go through that canal, so the closing of the canal means no vessels are transiting north and south,” Mercogliano told the AP. “Every day the canal is closed … container ships and tankers are not delivering food, fuel and manufactured goods to Europe and goods are not being exported from Europe to the Far East.”

The Ever Given had listed its destination as Rotterdam in the Netherlands prior to getting stuck in the canal. The ship, built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 meters (a quarter mile) and a width of 59 meters (193 feet), is among the largest cargo ships in the world. It can carry some 20,000 containers at a time.

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