A skyscraper-sized container ship has become wedged sideways across Egypt’s Suez Canal, blocking all traffic and threatening to disrupt global shipping.
The Ever Given, a 400m-long, 59m-wide ship registered in Panama that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground Tuesday in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from Asia.
By Thursday morning there were already more than 100 ships prevented from passing through the canal.
Images showed the ship’s bow* was touching the eastern wall, while its stern* looked lodged against the western wall — an extraordinary event that experts said they had never heard of happening before in the canal’s 150-year history.
The ship ran aground about 6km north of the southerly mouth of the canal near the city of Suez, an area of the canal that’s a single lane.
On Wednesday tug boats worked to free the ship and a photo appeared to show a backhoe digging into the sand bank under its bow in an effort to free it.
“Rescue and tug units are continuing their efforts” to free the MV Ever Given, involving at least eight tug boats, Suez Canal Authority chairman Admiral Osama Rabie said on Wednesday.
The BBC reported that Egypt has reopened the canal’s older channel to divert some traffic until the grounded ship can move again.
Around 10 per cent of the world’s trade travels through the canal. The route is particularly important for the transport of oil.
There are concerns that ships waiting in the Red Sea could become targets for attacks. The relationship between Iran and the US is tense at the moment and there have recently been related attacks against ships in the region.
Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which manages the Ever Given, said all 20 members of the crew were safe and that there had been “no reports of injuries or pollution.”
A pilot from Egypt’s canal authority typically boards a ship to guide it through the waterway, though the ship’s captain retains* authority over the vessel.
It wasn’t clear what caused the ship to become wedged. There were reports it had veered* off course during a sandstorm. GAC, a global shipping company, said the ship had experienced a blackout. Bernhard Schulte, however, denied the ship ever lost power.
Evergreen Marine Corp., a Taiwan-based shipping company that operates the ship, said in a statement that the Ever Given had been overcome by strong winds as it entered the canal from the Red Sea.
The blockage could have a major knock-on effect for global shipping moving between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, warned Salvatore R. Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner and associate professor of history at North Carolina’s Campbell University in the US.
“Every day, 50 vessels on average go through that canal, so the closing of the canal means no vessels are transiting north and south,” Mr Mercogliano said. “Every day the canal is closed … container ships and tankers are not delivering food, fuel and manufactured goods to Europe and goods are not being exported from Europe to the Far East.”
The stranding is the latest in a year of difficulties for ship crews around the world. Hundreds of thousands have been stuck aboard vessels due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, demands on shipping have increased, adding to the pressure on tired sailors, Mr Mercogliano said.
“It’s because of the breakneck* pace of global shipping right now and shipping is on a very tight schedule,” he said. “Add to it that mariners* have not been able to get on and off vessels because of COVID restrictions.”
Massive ship runs aground, blocking Suez Canal
The Suez Canal opened in 1869 and provides a crucial* link for oil, natural gas and cargo. It is also a major source of income for Egypt.
It is 193.3km long.
In 2015, the Egyptian government completed a major expansion of the canal, allowing it to accommodate the world’s largest ships. The Ever Given ran aground south of the expanded part of the canal.
Explainer: Why is the Suez Canal so important?
- bow: front
- stern: back
- retains: keeps
- veered: changed direction suddenly
- breakneck: dangerously or extremely fast
- mariners: sailors
- crucial: vital
- In what country is the Suez Canal?
- What is the canal for?
- Give three possible causes of the problem.
- What is the name of the ship?
- Which two seas does the canal connect?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Make a List
What are the most unusual, interesting or surprising things that you have learned from this story? List them. For each item on your list, write a sentence explaining what is so unusual, interesting or surprising about it.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Design and Technologies, Science, Economics and Business
Can you think of a design change that you could make for the walls of the Suez Canal that could make sure that no ship could ever get stuck again?
Create and label your design. Your labels must explain how the parts of your design help to solve this problem.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: , English, Science, Design and Technologies
Opener Up-Level It
Make a list of all the openers in the article. Pick three that repeat and see if you can replace them with another word, or shuffle the order of the sentence to bring a new opener to the front.
Don’t forget to re-read the sentence to make sure it still makes sense, and that it actually sounds better.