Egypt reopens historic sections of Suez Canal in a bid to ease marine traffic bottleneck caused after giant cargo ship became wedged across the vital waterway, leaving dozens of ships waiting on both the Mediterranean and Red Sea sides.

A container ship which was hit by strong wind and ran aground is pictured in Suez Canal, Egypt, March 24, 2021.
A container ship which was hit by strong wind and ran aground is pictured in Suez Canal, Egypt, March 24, 2021. (Reuters)

Traffic has resumed through Egypt's Suez Canal after a massive container cargo ship that ran aground blocked movement, Egypt's Suez Canal Authority has said.

"The navigation movement has returned to regularity again in the canal through the original route and the efforts to rescue and float the giant Panamanian container ship will continue," the authority said on Wednesday.

The 400-metre, 224,000-tonne Ever Given was stranded on Tuesday morning after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.

About 30 percent of global container ship traffic passes through the canal each day, carrying everything from fuel to consumer goods. The main alternative route for ships traveling between Asia and Europe, around the African cape, takes a week longer to navigate.

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

Mulling compensation for delays

There was no immediate confirmation from the SCA, but its chairperson 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, Chairperson Osama Rabie said.

About 12 percent of world trade by volume passes through the canal, and it is a major source of hard currency for Egypt.

Tracking maps had shown the ship grounded in the southernmost stretch of the waterway, between the Great Bitter Lake and the Red Sea port of Suez.

At least 30 ships were blocked to the north of the Ever Given, and three to the south, local sources said. Several dozen ships could also be seen grouped around the northern and southern entrances to the canal.

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Investigation under way

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), the ship's technical manager, said the Ever Given had run aground in the canal at around 05:40 GMT on Tuesday. It said an investigation was underway.

BSM, which handles the ship's crew and technical issues, said all the crew were safe and accounted for and that there had been no reports of injuries or pollution. It said it had notified the authorities and "interested parties," but that it could not confirm the ship's owner.

Taiwan's Evergreen Marine Corp, which is leasing the vessel, said the shipowner had told it the ship "was suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to deviate from (the) waterway and accidentally hit the bottom."

The ship is likely to have been insured for around $100 million, said Marcus Baker, global head of marine and cargo at insurance broker Marsh in London.

Oil supply concerns

Oil prices rose more than 2 percent on Wednesday as news from Suez spurred supply concerns. The impact on oil and gas flows will depend on how long it takes to clear the blockage, 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.

During 2020, nearly 19,000 ships, or an average of 51.5 per day, 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.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies