DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – A skyscraper-sized container ship has jammed in Egypt’s Suez Canal and blocked all traffic on the vital waterway, officials said Wednesday, threatening to disrupt a global transportation system. already affected 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 man-made canal that divides mainland Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. The footage showed that the ship’s bow was touching the east wall, while its stern appeared to be lodged against the western wall, an extraordinary event that experts said they had never heard of before in the canal’s 150-year history.
Tugboats struggled Wednesday to try to clear the road obstruction as ships waiting to enter the waterway began lining up in the Mediterranean and Red Sea. But it was not clear when the route, which flows about 10% of world trade and which is particularly crucial for the transportation of oil, would reopen. An official warned that it could take at least two days. Meanwhile, there were concerns that inactive ships could become targets of attack.
“The Suez Canal will spare no effort to ensure the restoration of navigation and serve the world trade movement,” promised Lieutenant General Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which runs Ever Given, said all 20 crew members were safe and there were “no reports of injuries or contamination.”
It was not immediately clear what caused Ever Given to snap on Tuesday morning. GAC, a global transportation and logistics company, said the ship had experienced a power outage without elaborating.
Bernhard Schulte, however, denied that the ship had lost power.
Evergreen Marine Corp., a major Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that Ever Given had been overtaken by high winds when it entered the canal from the Red Sea, but none of its containers had sunk.
An Egyptian official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to report to journalists, also blamed a strong wind. Egyptian meteorologists said strong winds and a sandstorm hit the area Tuesday, with winds reaching up to 50 kph (30 mph).
However, it was not clear how winds of that speed alone could have pushed a fully loaded ship weighing about 220,000 tons.
A pilot from Egypt’s canal authority usually boards a ship to guide it down the waterway, although the ship’s captain retains ultimate authority over the ship, said Ranjith Raja, principal analyst at data firm Refinitiv. The vessel entered the canal about 45 minutes before it jammed, moving at 12.8 knots (about 24 kph, 15 mph) just before the accident, he said.
An image posted to Instagram by a user on another waiting cargo ship appeared to show the Ever Given traversed by the channel, as shown in satellite images and data. A backhoe appeared to be digging into the sandbar below its bow in an effort to free it.
The Egyptian official said the tugboats expected to refloat the ship and that the operation would take at least two days. The ship ran aground about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of the canal’s southern mouth near the city of Suez, an area of the canal that has only one lane.
That could have a major knock-on effect for global shipping moving between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, warned Salvatore R. Mercogliano, a former merchant seaman and associate professor of history at Campbell University in North Carolina.
“Every day, 50 vessels on average pass through that canal, so the closure of the canal means that no vessels travel from north to south,” Mercogliano told AP. “Every day the canal is closed … container ships and oil tankers are not delivering food, fuel and manufactured goods to Europe and products are not being exported from Europe to the Far East.”
Some 30 vessels were already waiting in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake midway through the canal, while about 40 were idle in the Mediterranean near Port Said and another 30 in Suez on the Red Sea, according to canal service provider Leth. Agencies. That included seven vessels carrying about 5 million barrels of crude oil, Refinitiv said.
In addition to the economic implications, security experts warned that idle ships in the Red Sea could be targeted after a series of attacks on shipping in the Middle East amid tensions between Iran and the United States.
“All ships should consider adopting a high alert posture if forced to remain stationary within the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aden,” warned private marine intelligence firm Dryad Global.
The shutdown could also affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East. The price of international benchmark Brent crude rose nearly 2.9% to $ 62.52 a barrel on Wednesday.
Built in 2018 with a length of almost 400 meters (a quarter of a mile) and a width of 59 meters (193 feet), the Ever Given is among the largest cargo ships in the world. It can transport about 20,000 containers at a time. He had previously been to ports in China before heading to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas, and cargo. It also remains one of Egypt’s main sources of foreign exchange. In 2015, the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi completed a major expansion of the canal, allowing it to house the largest ships in the world. However, the Ever Given ran aground south of that new part of the canal.
Tuesday’s stranding marks only the latest to affect sailors amid the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands have been trapped aboard vessels due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, demands on shipping have increased, adding to the pressure on weary sailors, Mercogliano said.
“It’s because of the dizzying pace of global shipping right now and shipping is on a very tight schedule,” he said. “Add to this that sailors have not been able to get on and off the ships due to COVID restrictions.”
Associated Press journalists Taijing Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, Samy Magdy in Cairo, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, and Isabel DeBre in Dubai contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.