One of the largest cargo container ships in the world has grounded and blocked all traffic in Egypt’s Suez Canal. The blockage 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 vessel to turn sideways and get stuck 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 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).
An image posted to Instagram by a user on another waiting cargo ship appeared to showed the Ever Given wedged across the canal as shown in the satellite data. A backhoe appeared to be digging into the sandbank under its bow in an effort to free it.
The Egyptian official said tugboats are being used to refloat the ship but 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.
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. However, the Ever Given ran aground before that new portion of the canal.