25 Mar 2021

Giant container ship still stranded in Suez Canal

10:31 am on 25 March 2021

A giant container ship the length of four football pitches, blocking Egypt's Suez Canal, may take days to remove from the busy trade routes.

An image released by the Suez Canal Authority on 24 March 2021 shows 400m long container ship lodged sideways and impeding traffic across Egypt's Suez Canal.

The 400m container ship lodged sideways in Egypt's Suez Canal. Photo: AFP / Suez Canal Authority

The shortest shipping route from Europe to Asia remained blocked on Wednesday as 10 tug boats struggled to free one of the world's largest container ships after it ran aground in the canal.

Dozens of vessels are stuck, waiting for rescue boats to free the 400m-long ship, which was knocked off course by strong winds.

Egypt has reopened the canal's older channel to divert some traffic until the grounded ship can move again.

The blockage sent oil prices climbing on international markets.

About 12 percent of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.

Satellite images appeared to show the ship positioned diagonally across the canal, blocking its full width, while photos released by the Suez Canal Authority showed tugs at work and a digger removing earth and rock from the bank of the canal around the ship's bow.

A satellite image by Planet Labs Inc shows the Taiwain-owned ship 'Ever Given', operated by the shipping company Evergreen, lodged sideway sacross Egypt's Suez Canal.

A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc shows container vessel blocking other ships going through from Egypt's Suez Canal. Photo: AFP / Planet Labs

The Ever Given, registered in Panama and operated by Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen, was bound for the port city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands from China and was passing northwards through the canal on its way to the Mediterranean.

The 200,000 tonne ship may take days to remove.

A digger removing earth and rock from the bank of the canal around the ship's bow. The 200,000 tonne vessel may take days to remove. Photo: AFP / Suez Canal Authority

The 200,000 tonne ship ran aground and became lodged sideways across the waterway at about 07.40am local time on Tuesday.

At 400m long and 59m wide, the ship has blocked the path of other vessels which are now trapped in lines in both directions.

The company that manages the container ship, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), has denied earlier reports that the ship had already been partially refloated.

In a statement, it said its "immediate priorities are to safely re-float the vessel and for marine traffic in the Suez Canal to safely resume".

Experts have warned the process could take several days.

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said it was trying to rebalance the ship, and local sources said efforts could shift towards digging the ship out if the tug boats were unable to release it.

"Once we get this boat out, then that's it, things will go back to normal. God willing, we'll be done today," SCA chairman Osama Rabie said. The authority was considering compensation for delayed ships, he said.

- BBC / Reuters