Suez Canal blocked as efforts to move stuck ship continue

Salma El Wardany and Mirette Magdy
Bloomberg

Efforts to dislodge a giant vessel from the Suez Canal continued, with rescue teams trying to get traffic moving again in the one of the world’s most important waterways.

The Ever Given, a container ship longer than the Eiffel Tower that ran aground in the southern part of the canal in Egypt, is still stuck across the waterway despite efforts to release it, according to port agents and the ship’s manager. One port agent said earlier that traffic could resume by tomorrow, but the Suez Canal Authority remains silent on the matter.

In this photo released by the Suez Canal Authority, a boat navigates in front of a massive cargo ship, named the Ever Green, rear, sits grounded Wednesday, March 24, 2021, after it turned sideways in Egypt's Suez Canal.

The incident is a reminder of how much international trade is channeled through so-called chokepoints – geographically constrained waterways that include the Strait of Hormuz and Panama Canal. Dozens of vessels are already gridlocked at Suez and a lengthy halt could further stretch supply chains that have already been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Suez Canal blockage comes at a particularly unhelpful time,” said Greg Knowler, European editor at JOC Group, which is part of IHS Markit Ltd. “Even a two-day delay would further add to the supply chain disruption slowing the delivery of cargo to businesses across the U.K. and Europe.”

This satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows the cargo ship MV Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. 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, March 24, 2021, threatening to disrupt a global shipping system already strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 193-kilometer-long (120 miles) Suez Canal is among the most trafficked waterways in the world, used by tankers shipping crude from the Middle East to Europe and North America. About 12% of global trade and 8% of liquefied natural gas pass through the canal, as do around 1 million barrels of oil each day.

The disruption comes at a time when oil prices were already volatile. Crude surged above $70 a barrel earlier this month on Saudi production cuts, only to slump close to $60 this week due to setbacks in Europe’s coronavirus vaccine program.

Brent crude rose 3% to $62.64 as of 1:31 p.m. in London.

In this photo released by the Suez Canal Authority, a cargo ship, named the Ever Green, sits with its bow stuck into the wall Wednesday, March 24, 2021, after it turned sideways in Egypt's Suez Canal, blocking traffic in a crucial East-West waterway for global shipping.

The Ever Given was grounded early Tuesday amid poor visibility caused by a dust storm and wind speeds that reached 40 knots, resulting in a “loss of the ability to steer the ship,” according to the canal authority.

The vessel deviated “from its course due to suspected sudden strong wind,” Taiwan-based Evergreen Line, the time charterer of the vessel, said in an emailed response to questions. Japan’s Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., among those listed as the ship’s owner, declined to comment.

About 42 vessels either in the northbound convoy or arriving to transit the canal in that direction were waiting for the Ever Given to be re-floated, Leth Agencies, one of the top providers of Suez Canal crossing services, said in a notice to clients. The company said it is sending a dredger to help free the ship.

About 64 vessels traveling southbound were also affected. GAC said 15 affected ships are waiting at anchorage.

Navigation is possible along the old canal, the canal authority said. But the vessel is stuck at a point that can’t be bypassed so the old canal can’t help.

Ever Given was traveling from China to Rotterdam. The crew are safe and accounted for, and there have been no reports of injuries or pollution, according to the ship’s manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement. The vessel is carrying cargo for logistics company Orient Overseas Container Line Ltd., according to Mark Wong, a spokesman for OOCL.

At 400 meters in length, Ever Given was built in Japan about three years ago. Shipping companies have been turning to mega-sized vessels to help improve economies of scale, while some key routes – including the Suez Canal – have been widened and deepened over the years to accommodate them.