There’s a Cargo Ship the Size of the Empire State Building Stuck in the Suez Canal and It’s Causing a Serious Traffic Jam

There’s a cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal. If you haven’t heard of the Suez Canal, that might not seem like such a big deal. But, as it turns out, a cargo ship being stuck in the Suez Canal is a huge deal.  

A cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal
A handout picture released by the Suez Canal Authority on March 24, 2021 shows the Taiwan-owned MV Ever Given (Evergreen), a 400-metre- (1,300-foot-)long and 59-metre wide vessel, lodged sideways and impeding all traffic across the waterway of Egypt’s Suez Canal. | Suez Canal Authority/HO/AFP via Getty Images

What is the Suez Canal?

To really understand how big of a problem this stuck cargo ship is, you first need to understand what the Suez Canal actually is. According to The New York Times, the Suez Canal is a 120-mile-long artificial waterway that first opened in 1869. It’s located in Egypt and connects Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean. As The New York Times explains, the canal serves as a more direct shipping route between Europe and Asia. It also eliminates the need to circumnavigate Africa and can, ultimately, shorten cargo ship voyage times by a matter of days and even weeks.

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What cargo ship is blocking the Suez Canal?

Now, you might have been hearing a lot about the Suez Canal this week. There’s a pretty good reason for that, though. In fact, AP News reports that The Ever Given, a Panama-flagged vessel that carries cargo between Asia and Europe, has been stuck in the man-made canal since Tuesday. As a result, AP News says that the cargo ship has divided continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. According to experts, this is something that’s never happened during the Suez Canal’s 150-year history.

A cargo ship being stuck in the Suez Canal has some serious implications too. In talks with AP News, Sharat Ganapati, an economics professor at Georgetown University, explained that the “blockage will delay a range of parts and raw materials for European products such as cotton from India for clothes, petroleum from the Middle East for plastics, and auto parts from China.”

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How the cargo ship got stuck in the Suez Canal

As for how the cargo ship found itself stuck in the Suez Canal? According to The New York Times, poor visibility and high winds are to blame. In fact, The New York Times reports that the winds may have forced the cargo ship’s stacked containers to act like sails, which The New York Times explains could have pushed the cargo ship off course, ultimately wedging it in the Suez Canal. 

Obviously, there has been a significant effort to dislodge the cargo ship. However, the bad news is that CNN reports that shipping experts believe it could take days or even weeks to free the cargo ship from the Suez Canal. The owner of the vessel has since stepped up to apologize for the situation.

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“In co-operation with local authorities and Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, a vessel management company, we are trying to refloat [the Ever Given], but we are facing extreme difficulty,” the owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, said in a statement provided to BBC on Thursday.

“We sincerely apologise for causing a great deal of worry to ships in the Suez Canal and those planning to go through the canal,” the statement added.

The Washington Post reports that Egypt’s Suez Canal Authority has deployed eight large tugboats to release the cargo ship from the Suez Canal. “A Dutch firm with expertise in salvage operations also began to work with the authority on Thursday,” The Washington Post added.

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How big is the cargo ship that’s stuck in the Suez Canal?

According to CNN, the cargo ship stuck in the Suez measures in at 400 meters long and 59 meters wide, which The New York Times says makes it about the length of the Empire State Building. Obviously, a cargo ship of that size being stuck in the Suez Canal will cause a significant traffic jam.

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In fact, according to Lloyd’s List, 165 vessels are currently waiting at either end of the canal. Many ships are blocked from exiting the canal because of the blockage too. Lloyd’s List reports that the stranded vessels include 41 bulk carriers, 33 container ships, dozens of oil and petroleum tankers, and eight vehicle containers

“Containerised goods represent around 26% of total Suez traffic, and in value terms, delays will be significant. Rough calculations suggest westbound traffic is worth around $5.1bn daily while eastbound traffic is worth $4.5bn,” Lloyd’s List added. 

Here’s hoping the cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal is freed soon, and traffic can return to normal.