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Megaship blocks Suez Canal: What we know so far

Megaship blocks Suez Canal: What we know so far

A handout picture released by the Suez Canal Authority on Mar 25, 2021 shows Egyptian tug boats trying to free Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen), a 400m long and 59m wide vessel, lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across the waterway of Egypt's Suez Canal. Egypt's Suez Canal Authority said it was "temporarily suspending navigation" until refloating of the MV Ever Given ship was completed on one of the busiest maritime trade routes. Suez CANAL / AFP

CAIRO: A giant container ship got stuck during a sandstorm on Tuesday (Mar 23) in Egypt's Suez Canal, causing a traffic jam of cargo ships through one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Here is what we know so far. 

WHAT HAPPENED? 

The 400m-long MV Ever Given - almost as long as the Empire State Building is high - veers off-course while a gale-force dust storm hits Egypt's Sinai Desert and much of the Middle East.

The 59m-wide Taiwan-run, Panama-flagged vessel from the class of so-called "megaships" becomes stuck near the southern end of the canal and diagonally blocks the man-made waterway that connects the Mediterranean with the Red Sea.

Ship operator Evergreen Marine Corp of Taiwan says the vessel - which was en route from Yantian, China to the Dutch port of Rotterdam - "ran aground after a suspected gust of wind hit it".

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) says the accident was "mainly due to the lack of visibility due to the weather conditions when winds reached 40 knots, which affected the control" of the ship.

The 25 crew are unhurt, the hull and cargo undamaged, and there is no oil leak, say the vessel's managers, Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.

Egyptian tug boats, dredgers and bulldozers get to work trying to free the enormous ship.

READ: ‘Extreme difficulty’ freeing ship stuck in Suez Canal, says Japanese owner of vessel

READ: Suez Canal blockage may disrupt supplies to the region: Ong Ye Kung

WHAT IS THE IMPACT?

The megaship blocks the shipping artery through which more than 10 per cent of global maritime trade passes.

The Suez Canal, opened in 1869 and widened since, is a crucial shortcut between Asia and Europe that saves ships from having to navigate around the southern tip of Africa.

READ: Egypt's Suez Canal: A history of the key route

As a result of the accident, dozens of vessels are forced to wait at Egypt's Great Bitter Lake midway along the canal, in the Mediterranean and in the Red Sea, says canal service provider Leth Agencies.

Old sections of the canal are reopened in an effort to ease congestion, but this does not solve the fundamental problem because there is only one lane on the southern end where the ship is stuck.

The blockage hits world oil markets as traders anticipate delays in deliveries. Crude futures surged 6 per cent on Wednesday.

"We've never seen anything like it before," said Ranjith Raja, Middle East oil and shipping researcher at international financial data firm Refinitiv.

"It is likely that the congestion ... will take several days or weeks to sort out as it will have a knock-on effect on other convoys."

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Suez Canal Authority announces on Thursday it is "temporarily suspending navigation" along all of the canal.

Egyptian authorities say they have deployed eight additional vessels to free the stricken ship.

Broker Braemar has earlier warned that if tug boats are unable to move the giant vessel, some of its cargo might have to be removed by crane barge to refloat it.

"This can take days, maybe weeks," it says.

The owners of the vessel, Japanese ship-leasing firm Shoei Kisen Kaisha, say on Thursday they are facing "extreme difficulty" refloating it.

Company official Toshiaki Fujiwara tells AFP "we still don't know how long it will take".

"We have not heard of any particular progress. Now they are trying to dig out dirt under the bow of the vessel. They will resume tug operations when the tide rises."

READ: Stranded Suez ship's owner, insurers face millions in claims

He says the ship had an insurance policy, but that the firm is unaware of the details or the costs involved at this stage.

"It's just the beginning," Fujiwara says.

Source: AFP/vc

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