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An Enormous Cargo Ship Is Stuck Blocking One Of The World's Key Shipping Routes


The Suez Canal, one of the world's vital shipping routes, is blocked by one of the world's biggest cargo ships. This ship, the ever given, ran aground on the banks of the canal and is blocking it. NPR's Jackie Northam reports on what happened and what it might take to move the enormous ship out of the way.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The Ever Given is an enormous ship, about a quarter of a mile long, so navigating it through narrow waters such as the Suez Canal is a challenge. It's still unclear why, but somehow the bow of the vessel began to drift towards one of the banks. Maritime consultant Basil Karatzas with Karatzas Marine Advisors says the vessel is relatively new, so there shouldn't have been any mechanical issues. A ferocious sandstorm may have played a role.

BASIL KARATZAS: There have been reports that visibility was low at the time and may have impaired the captain and the crew on the bridge, their visibility.

NORTHAM: The ship, which is operated by Taiwan-based Evergreen Group, ended up across the Suez Canal. Karatzas says powerful tugboats have been trying to pull the vessel out of the sandbank.

KARATZAS: They may have to bring other vessels and take off some of the containers of the vessel. They may have to take ballast water out of the vessel in order to make the vessel lighter and to make it, you know, lift itself on the water.

NORTHAM: Lars Jensen, the CEO of Copenhagen-based SeaIntelligence Consulting, says supply chains were already in disarray, caused by a ripple effect from the pandemic.

LARS JENSEN: So you have major port congestion. You have shortages of vessel capacity, shortages of empty containers. There's a myriad of things that are out of kilter with the supply chain already. This then adds on top of it, and that's not good.

NORTHAM: Guy Platten with the International Chamber of Shipping says 12% of global trade passes through the canal, and more than 100 ships are now waiting to enter it. He says ship owners will have to decide if they want to wait until the Ever Given is unstuck.

GUY PLATTEN: The alternative, of course, of the Suez Canal is to route to your ships round the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of South Africa. But for typical Asia-to-Europe journey, that adds 12 days or 3,800 miles.

NORTHAM: Platten believes the ship owners will wait a few days to see if and how the Ever Given will be released from the bank of the canal.

Jackie Northam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.