DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A skyscraper-sized container ship has become wedged across Egypt’s Suez Canal and blocked all traffic in the vital waterway. Officers said Wednesday, threatening to disrupt a global shipping system already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.
The MV Ever Given, a Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow, human-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. Images showed the ship’s bow was touching the eastern wall, while its stern looked lodged against the western wall.
Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea, but none of its containers had sunk.
Tugboats strained Wednesday to try to nudge the obstruction out of the way as ships hoping to enter the waterway began lining up in the Mediterranean and Red Seas. But it remained unclear when the route, through which around 10% of world trade flows and which is particularly crucial for the transport of oil, would reopen. One official warned it could take at least two days.
“The Suez Canal will not spare any efforts to ensure the restoration of navigation and to serve the movement of global trade,” vowed Lt. Gen. Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority.
Bernhard Schulte, however, denied the ship ever lost power.
An Egyptian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists, similarly blamed a strong wind. Egyptian forecasters said high winds and a sandstorm plagued the area Tuesday, with winds gusting as much as 50 kph (30 mph).
However, it remained unclear how wind alone would have been able to push a fully laden vessel weighing some 220,000 tons. Typically, Egyptian pilots take over ships passing through the canal, but it wasn’t immediately clear if that happened with the Ever Given.