Tugs and diggers have so far failed to dislodge a massive container ship stuck in the Suez Canal on Wednesday, increasing the chances of prolonged delays in what is arguably the world’s most important waterway.
Work to re-float the ship was suspended until Thursday morning in Egypt, shipping agent Inchcape said, citing the Suez Canal Authority. Dredgers are still trying to loosen the vessel before any attempt to pull it out, the ship’s manager said.
It’s taxing to even grasp how big this ship is. About a quarter mile long (400 meters) and weighing in at 200,000 metric tons, its sheer size is overwhelming the efforts to dig it out. A huge yellow excavator, itself about twice as tall as its driver, looked like child’s toy parked next to the ship’s bulking bow.
The situation has gotten so desperate that an elite salvage squad is due to arrive Thursday to work on prising the Ever Given from the bank of the canal, where it’s blocking oceangoing carriers that haul everything from oil to consumer goods.
About 12% of global trade goes through the canal, making it so strategic that world powers have fought over the waterway since it was completed in 1869. For now, all that traffic is backed up with the Ever Given aground in the southern part of the canal, creating another setback for global supply chains already strained by the e-commerce boom linked to the 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.”
The incident began on Tuesday when strong winds blasted through the region and kicked up sands along the banks of the 120-mile-long canal, which connects the Mediterranean in the north with the Red Sea in the south. The waterway is narrow — less than 675 feet wide (205 meters) in some places — and can be difficult to navigate when there’s poor visibility.
But Ever Given stayed its course through the canal, on its way to Rotterdam from China. As gusts that reached as high as 46 miles an hour swept up dust around it, the crew lost control of ship and it careened sideways into a sandy embankment, blocking nearly the entirety of the channel.
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