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Egypt: Giant container ship still stuck in Suez Canal

The incident has brought marine traffic to a halt along one of the world's busiest trade routes
Images showed the Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given, a 400m long and 59m wide vessel, lodged sideways and impeding all traffic (AFP)

The container ship stranded in the Suez Canal is still grounded and canal authorities are working to refloat it, an official at marine agent GAC said on Wednesday.

According to Reuters, Ahmed Mekawy, an assistant manager at GAC's Egypt office, said the Dubai-based agent had earlier received inaccurate information that the Ever Given had been partially refloated.

The giant container ship has been blocking the Suez Canal for more than a day, suspending traffic along the fastest shipping route from Europe to Asia.

Pictures posted on social media had appeared to show the ship positioned diagonally across the canal, blocking its full width.

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Photos shared by the  Suez Canal Authority (SCA) showed a digger removing earth and rock from the bank of the canal around the ship's bow.

GAC, a Dubai-based marine services company, said earlier on Wednesday that the Ever Given had been partially refloated and moved alongside the canal bank, citing information from the SCA mid-Wednesday.

"Convoys and traffic are expected to resume as soon as the vessel is towed to another position," GAC said on its website.

There was no immediate confirmation from the SCA, but its chairman told local TV that a southbound convoy was on the move and that the authority was trying to keep traffic flowing between waiting areas as best it could.

The authority was considering compensation for delayed ships, Chairman Osama Rabie said.

Rabie downplayed the seriousness of the incident in his first public remarks on Wednesday, saying "an incident or two is not a bid deal. We are used to such crises, and are working to resolve it."

'Stuck sideways'

The 224,000-tonne Ever Given was stranded on Tuesday morning after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm, the SCA said in a statement.

The authority said it was sparing no effort to ensure regular navigation through the canal, but it was unclear how soon the vessel would be free and sources said delays to shipping were expected.

About 12 percent of world trade by volume passes through the canal connecting Europe and Asia, Reuters reported. 

The canal remains a major source of hard currency for Egypt.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the ship's technical manager, said the Ever Given, one of the largest container ships in the world, ran aground in the canal at around 05:40 GMT on Tuesday. It said an investigation was underway.

timeline suez canal

Tracking maps showed the ship grounded in the southernmost stretch of the canal, near the Red Sea port of Suez.

The SCA said it had issued a message of reassurance regarding "navigational movement through the canal and its return to regularity through the course of the original canal".

Instagram user Julianne Cona posted a photo of the grounded ship from the Maersk Denver, now also stuck behind the Ever Given.

"Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways," she wrote. "Looks like we might be here for a little bit."

'Sudden strong wind'

The canal was expanded with a parallel waterway on part of its length in 2015, north of where the Ever Given is stranded. 

Two senior Egyptian marine sources said some traffic would be diverted but it was unclear that this could free up congestion.

Taiwan's Evergreen Marine Corp, which is leasing the vessel under a time charter, said the shipowner had informed the company that the ship "was suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to deviate from waterway and accidentally hit the bottom and run aground".

The ship is 59m wide and can carry up to 20,000 shipping containers.

BSM, which handles the ship's crew and technical issues, said all the crew are safe and accounted for and that there have been no reports of injuries or pollution.

BSM has notified the authorities and "interested parties" but said it could not confirm the ship's owner, Reuters reported.

GAC said on Wednesday on its website that 15 other ships in the northbound convoy behind the Ever Given were detained at anchorages waiting for the canal to be cleared.

Alternative route

More than 100 ships are reported to have gathered near the entrance to the canal, waiting to pass through.

Asia-Europe container trade flows are picking up again after the Lunar New Year so an extended blockage would have severe consequences as the alternative route via the Cape route will be a week slower, said Tan Hua Joo, a consultant with Liner Research.

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Any delays will exacerbate the shortage of container ships and boxes, as 30 percent of global container ship capacity passes through the Suez, according to data from Liner Research Services.

During 2020, nearly 19,000 ships, or an average of 51.5 ships per day, with a net tonnage of 1.17bn tonnes passed through the canal, according to the SCA.

"It increases the risk that we might see additional port congestion in European ports in the next week," said Lars Jensen, chief executive at SeaIntelligence Consulting.

"When the canal re-opens, this will mean that the delayed cargo will now arrive at the same time as cargo behind it which is still on track."

Oil and gas flows

The impact on oil and gas flows will depend on how long it takes to clear the container ship, the sources said.

As of Wednesday, five laden liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers were unable to pass through the canal due to the grounded container ship, according to data intelligence firm Kpler. 

Of the five, three were bound for Asia and two for Europe, said Kpler analyst Rebecca Chia.

She said that if the congestion persists until the end of this week, it would affect the transit of 15 LNG tankers.