Giant ship creates bottleneck after becoming wedged in Suez Canal

This is the ultimate nautical traffic jam.

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A massive container ship -- that measures more than twice the height of the Washington Monument and almost as high as the Empire State Building -- is wedged sideways across the Suez Canal, stalling traffic in one of the world’s crucial shipping lanes.

The Ever Given sailed into the canal, the 120-mile link between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, carrying thousands of tons of cargo to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, The Washington Post reported. However, a dust storm hit and limited visibility while battering ships with high winds, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

By midday Tuesday, the ship, more than 1,300 feet long, was stuck after running aground, the newspaper reported. The ship was stalled at the canal’s 94-mile mark, Evergreen Marine Corp., the vessel’s operating company said in a statement.

Eight tugboats have been working to float and release the ship, which also measures 193.5 feet wide, CNN reported.

Meanwhile, more than 100 boats were lined up at both ends of the canal on Wednesday, waiting to get through, The New York Times reported.

“The Suez Canal is the choke point,” Capt. John Konrad, founder of the shipping news website, told the newspaper. Konrad added that 90% of the world’s goods are transported on ships. It “could not happen in a worse place, and the timing’s pretty bad, too,” Konrad said.

The 224,000-ton vessel is sailing under a Panama flag, CNN reported.

Nearly 19,000 ships, with a net tonnage of 1.17 billion, passed through the canal during 2020, the Suez Canal Authority told CNN.

The impact on oil and gas shipping will depend on how long it takes to clear the container ship, the news network reported.

“Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways,” Julianne Cona, an engineer on the Maersk Denver, wrote on Instagram, showing her ship stuck behind the Ever Given. “Looks like we might be here for a little bit.”

Early Wednesday, the ship was “partially refloated” and moved along the banks of the canal, according to an update sent to the Post by GAC, a port agent.

GAC officials said in a statement the vessel is being towed to another position and traffic in the canal will be back to normal soon. Experts said it could still take several days to refloat the ship, the Post reported.

Lt. General Osama Rabie, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, said that an older section of the canal was being used to help ease the traffic jam, the Times reported.

The Ever Given, built in 2018, is among the largest cargo ships in the world, according to The Associated Press. It can carry 20,000 containers at a time, and had been in Chinese ports before heading toward the Netherlands.

The Suez Canal is a key passage to ship oil from the Persian Gulf region to Europe and North America, the Times reported. Roughly 5% of globally traded crude oil and 10% of refined petroleum products passed through the canal before the pandemic, David Fyfe, chief economist at the Argus Media market research firm, told the newspaper.

If the canal remains clogged for more than a few days, it could become problematic.

“If that’s going to be a knock-on delay, then you’ll see piling up and bunching up of ships on their arrival in Europe as well,” Akhil Nair, vice president of global carrier management at SEKO Logistics in Hong Kong, told the Times. “It’s just one more factor that we didn’t need.”

“If it extends to, say, weeks it will of course disrupt all shipping in a major way,” Ashok Sharma, managing director of Singapore-based shipbroker BRS Baxi, told CNN. “But I think there should be sufficient resources available and pretty much in close proximity to deal with the situation quickly, in days rather than weeks.”