Suez Canal: Stranded container ship Ever Given still aground after blocking world famous trade route

Marine traffic backed up as historic waterway inadvertently blockaded by massive vessel

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 24 March 2021 19:33
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Related video: An Evergreen container ship sails the Suez Canal

A skyscraper-sized container ship that ran aground in the Suez Canal remains stuck in place, causing one of the world’s largest and most significant trade routes to be blocked to both north and southbound traffic for more than a day.

Tugboats strained on Wednesday to nudge the Ever Given, a massive cargo carrier operated by Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine and registered in Panama, after it became lodged sideways in the channel. The obstruction prevented other ships from passing along the 120-mile manmade waterway, which connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea.

Ahmed Mekawy, an assistant manager at the port agent GAC’s Egypt office, retracted an earlier statement announcing that the vessel had been partially refloated, saying the claim was based on inaccurate information.

“The Suez Canal will not spare any efforts to ensure the restoration of navigation and to serve the movement of global trade,” Lieutenant-General Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said of the effort to restore order and free the ship.

The Ever Given was en route from China to the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands before the mishap. Egyptian officials blamed strong 30mph winds for placing the vessel in difficulty, an explanation that has raised eyebrows in some quarters given that the ship is a quarter of a mile long and weighs an estimated 220,000 tons.

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It is now lying alongside the canal bank, GAC said on its website.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, the company responsible for the technical management of the Ever Given, said in a statement that its crew were safe.

“There have been no reports of injuries, pollution or cargo damage and initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding,” it added.

The congestion involves some 30 vessels waiting at Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake at the canal’s midway point, 40 more idled on the Mediterranean near Port Said and another 30 in the Red Sea.

The delays caused could have a major knock-on effect for global shipping moving between the Mediterranean and the Sinai Peninsula, according to academic and former merchant mariner Salvatore Mercogliano.

“Every day, 50 vessels on average go through that canal, so the closing of the canal means no vessels are transiting north and south,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Mercogliano blamed the disaster on the “breakneck pace of global shipping right now”, saying that “shipping is on a very tight schedule” and that “mariners have not been able to get on and off vessels because of Covid restrictions”, further complicating their duties.

Additional reporting by agencies

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