Europe

Egypt’s Suez Canal blocked as massive cargo ship runs aground

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.

It threatens 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 ship as suffering “a blackout while transiting in a northerly direction,” without giving more details.

‘Overcome by strong winds’

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

“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 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.

The ship ran aground some 6km north of the southernly mouth of the canal near the city of Suez, an area of the canal that’s a single lane.

Prelude to global shipping chaos?

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 metres and a width of 59 meters, is among the largest cargo ships in the world. It can carry around 20,000 containers at a time.

Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo being shipping from East to West. Around 10% of the world’s trade flows through the waterway and it 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 but the Ever Given ran aground before that new portion of the canal.

The incident on Tuesday marks just the latest to affect mariners amid the pandemic with hundreds of thousands stuck aboard vessels in the last year.

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

“It’s because of the breakneck pace of global shipping right now and shipping is on a very tight schedule,” he said. “Add to it that mariners have not been able to get on and off vessels because of COVID restrictions.”

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