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Massive Container Ship Runs Aground In Suez Canal, Halting Traffic

Updated March 24, 2021 at 12:44 PM ET

A waterway crucial to global trade is currently blocked by a massive container ship, causing a traffic jam that could last days.

The Ever Given, sailing under a Panamanian flag bound for The Netherlands from China, ran aground Tuesday morning. The ship was traveling northward through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean from the Red Sea when it ran aground in high winds and a dust storm.

The ship, wedged at an angle across the waterway, now blocks the path of other container vessels in both directions. Julianne Cona, who was aboard the Maersk Denver directly behind the Ever Given, shared an image of the vessel on Instagram.

The ship is owned by container shipping company Evergreen Line. The Ever Given was built in 2018. At about 1,300 feet long and 200 feet wide, it is among the largest container ships currently in operation.

As of noon Eastern time, the ship still appeared to be aground. The website Marine Traffic shows the Ever Given surrounded by several tugboats.

The Suez Canal is a crucial global trade passage, providing the shortest warm-water maritime route from Europe to Asia. It's 120 miles long, 79 feet deep and 673 feet wide. Thousands of ships travel through the canal every year; more than 18,000 ships traversed it in 2018.

A traffic jam along the waterway could have "huge ramifications for global trade," Campbell University maritime history professor Sal Mercogliano told the BBC.

"This is the largest vessel ever to go aground in the Suez Canal," he told the news organization.

The Suez Canal is especially important to the shipment of oil. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said, "The inability of oil to transit a major chokepoint, even temporarily, can lead to substantial supply delays and higher shipping costs, resulting in higher world energy prices."

Shipping industry sources cited by Reuters said more than 20 oil tankers were affected by the disruptions. The world's largest container line, A.P. Moller Maersk, said four of its vessels were stuck in the canal system as a result of the Ever Given's grounding and three others were backed up waiting to enter the passage, according to the news agency.

Reuters, quoting shipping sources, said that if delays continue, shipping firms may be forced to reroute around Africa. That could add a week to any passage between Asia and Europe.

According to gCaptain.com, "how long the Ever Given remains stuck now depends on how hard aground she is and how favorable the tides are, or aren't."

The Suez Canal has been the site of other events that temporarily snarled shipping traffic. Two container ships, the German-flagged MV Colombo Express and the Singapore-flagged MV Maersk Tanjong, collided in 2014.

In 2015, Egypt completed a 22-mile expansion of the Suez Canal, allowing two-way traffic and accommodating larger vessels.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.