Suez Canal Reopens After Removal of Stranded Ship

It will take days for the backlog of ships waiting to transit the canal to be cleared after a stranded container vessel was finally freed.

The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, is pulled by a tugboat in Egypt’s Suez Canal on Monday. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

(CN) — The Suez Canal was reopened to shipping on Monday afternoon after a gigantic container ship was refloated earlier in the day, nearly a week after it got stuck and blocked one of the world’s busiest trading routes.

Since last Tuesday, the Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, blocked the canal after it became stranded in the Egyptian waterway during a sand storm with high winds, causing massive trade disruptions. There were fears it was going to take weeks to remove the ship, but that disastrous scenario was avoided.

With its bow wedged into the sandy bank, the enormous ship – longer than the Empire State Building is tall – and its towering stacks of containers became a powerful symbol of global trade and a reminder of the sheer volume of goods going back and forth from Europe to Asia, especially China.

The Japanese-owned ship is operated by Evergreen Marine, a major Taiwanese shipper. It was bound for the Dutch port of Rotterdam after previous stops in China, Taiwan and Malaysia.

The days-long blockage is causing massive disruptions in global trade. The Suez Canal is a crucial link in trade between Europe and Asia with about 12% of global trade passing through it. The disruption is adding to problems to global supply lines caused by the coronavirus pandemic.   

On Monday morning, the Suez Canal Authority said a flotilla of high-powered tow boats got the Ever Given’s bow unstuck and that the ship was refloated with the help of high tide. By the afternoon, it was being removed from the canal for an inspection at the Bitter Lakes waiting area. Shipping also resumed, though it is expected to take several days for a backlog of about 400 ships to get cleared. By late Monday afternoon, VesselFinder, a ship tracking service, showed the Ever Given located at the entrance to the Great Bitter Lake, a saltwater lake on the Suez Canal route where ships can pass each other and turn around.

On average, 3 million tons of cargo pass through the canal each day and the blockage held up an estimated $10 billion in trade each day. Fitch Ratings estimates that the incident will result in losses worth hundreds of millions of dollars for the reinsurance industry.

The Ever Given was built in 2018 and it is capable of transporting up to 20,000 containers, making it one of the world’s most elite megaships. Evergreen reportedly has talked about building even larger vessels capable of carrying up to 23,000 containers.

The cause of the accident is under investigation. Although 40-knot gusts in a sand storm have been cited as a possible cause, Suez Canal authorities have also cited human or technical errors as a possible reason for the ship’s grounding. There were no reports of injuries to the Indian crew running the ship or of pollution caused by the accident.  

On Saturday, Osama Rabie, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, told reporters that “strong winds and weather factors were not the main reasons for the ship’s grounding – there may have been technical or human errors.”

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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