EXPLAINER: What we know about a ship blocking the Suez Canal

Full Screen
1 / 7

This photo released by the Suez Canal Authority on Thursday, March 25, 2021, shows Lt. Gen. Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, investigating the situation with the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, after it become wedged across the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in the vital waterway. An operation is underway to try to work free the ship, which further imperiled global shipping Thursday as at least 150 other vessels needing to pass through the crucial waterway idled waiting for the obstruction to clear. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)

DUBAI – A giant backhoe and a squadron of tugboats look minuscule against the cargo ship’s bulk, demonstrating the enormity of the challenge at hand: freeing the wedged, skyscraper-sized container ship that has blocked the entire width of the Suez Canal and created a major traffic jam on one of the world’s most crucial trade routes.

The tugs and diggers toiled on Thursday as over 150 vessels carrying goods to destinations across the world on tight schedules remained trapped on either end of the canal, which links the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

Over its 150-year history, Egypt's Suez Canal has seen wars and crises — but nothing quite like the stranding of the Ever Given.

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

That remains murky. The vessel entered the canal from the Red Sea on Tuesday morning and ran aground 45 minutes later.

The ship's operator and Egyptian officials blamed winds gusting as much as 50 kilometers per hour (30 miles per hour), along with a sandstorm sweeping the area.

Cargo ships have grown in recent years to take on more containers as fuel prices have risen because big boats burn less fuel per container moved. Some have wondered if the ultra-large size of the Ever Given was a factor.

While the supersize of ships can increase their risk of running aground in the Suez Canal, boats just as big buffeted by winds just as strong have passed through the waterway without incident before.