A cargo ship has turned sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal, blocking traffic in a crucial East-West waterway for global shipping.
The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged container ship that carries trade between Asia and Europe, became grounded on Tuesday in the narrow, man-made waterway dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula.
It was not 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.
Evergreen Marine Corp, a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, 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.
A Egyptian official 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 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 3.7 miles north of the southernly mouth of the canal near the city of Suez, an area of the canal that is a single lane.
The incident could have a major knock-on effect for global shipping moving between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, according to Salvatore R Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner and associate professor of history at North Carolina’s Campbell University.
He said: “Every day, 50 vessels on average go through that canal, so the closing of the canal means no vessels are transiting north and south.
“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.”
A pilot from Egypt’s canal authority typically boards a ship to guide it through the waterway, though the ship’s captain retains ultimate authority over the vessel, said Ranjith Raja, a lead analyst at the data firm Refinitiv.
Already, some 30 vessels waited at Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake midway on the canal, while some 40 idled in the Mediterranean near Port Said and another 30 at Suez in the Red Sea, according to canal service provider Leth Agencies. That included seven vessels carrying some five million barrels of crude oil, said Refinitiv.
The Ever Given had listed its destination as Rotterdam in the Netherlands prior to getting stuck.
Built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 metres (1,312ft) and a width of 59 metres (193ft), it is one of the largest cargo ships in the world.
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.