A Panama-flagged cargo ship which ranks among the largest ever built, ran aground sideways late Tuesday in the Suez Canal, hindering all traffic in either direction.
The MV Ever Given, which carries trade between Asia and Europe and was en route to Rotterdam from China, is threatening to disrupt a global shipping system already strained by the coronavirus pandemic as well as causing a rise in the price of crude oil.
The Ever Given - which is almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall -- ran aground diagonally across the single-lane stretch of the southern canal on Tuesday morning after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.
According to the global shipping and logistics company GAC, the Ever Given suffered “a blackout while transiting in a northerly direction,” but no further details were disclosed, while the ships operating company Evergreen Marine Corp said in a statement that the vessel had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the Suez Canal from the Red Sea but none of its containers had sunk. Unofficial Egyptian sources quoted by local media corroborated the statement saying high winds and a sandstorm had plagued the area on Tuesday, with winds gusting as much as 50km/h.
The ship ran aground about six kilometres north of the southern mouth of the canal near the city of Suez, an area of the canal that’s a single lane.
The Ever Given’s bow was touching the canal’s eastern wall, while its stern looked lodged against its western wall, according to satellite data from MarineTraffic.com. Several tugboats surrounded the ship, most likely attempting to push it the right way, the data showed.
Other sources have vouched that “there have been no reports of injuries or pollution.”
According to Egyptian witnesses, tugboats hoped to refloat the ship in an operation that may take at least two days. Bad weather halted much of the rescue efforts during most of Wednesday but work had resumed by Thursday dawn with five tugs trying to drag the vessel to deeper water.
Analysts in the shipping industry forecast a significant impact on world trade since approximately 50 vessels go through the Suez Canal every day. In other words, shortages in supplies of food, fuel and other goods might hit the entire world, particularly Europe.
The Ever Given was built in 2018 with a length of nearly 400 metres and a width of 59 metres. It is among the largest cargo ships in the world. It can carry about 20,000 containers at a time.
Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo being shipped from East to West. About 10 per cent 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 Egyptian 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.
Ship crews have been severely affected by covid restrictions worldwide, unable to go ashore for months.
The owners and insurers of Ever Given, could already be facing millions of dollars of insurance claims when the ship is eventually refloated, mainly due to the costs of the salvage operation as well as the trail of global shipment delays caused by the blockade, according to the Reuters news agency.