INTERNATIONAL NEWS - Egyptian tug boats worked Thursday to free a giant container vessel stuck in the Suez Canal that threatens to disrupt one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes for days.
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said it was trying to refloat the Taiwan-run, Panama-flagged MV Ever Given, a 400-metre (1,300-foot) long vessel which veered off course and ran aground in a sandstorm on Tuesday.
Satellite pictures released by Planet Labs Inc show the 59-metre wide container ship wedged diagonally across the entire canal.
"We've never seen anything like it before," said Ranjith Raja, Middle East oil and shipping researcher at international financial data firm Refinitiv.
"It is likely that the congestion... will take several days or weeks to sort out as it will have a knock-on effect on other convoys."
The blockage has already hit world oil markets. Crude futures surged six percent on Wednesday as traders assessed the likely impact on deliveries.
Broker Braemar warned that if tug boats are unable to move the giant vessel, some of its cargo might have to be removed by crane barge to refloat it.
"This can take days, maybe weeks," it said.
The vessel's managers, Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), said its 25 crew were unhurt and the hull and cargo undamaged.
A MarineTraffic map showed large clusters of vessels circling as they waited in both the Mediterranean to the north and the Red Sea to the south.
Historic sections of the canal were reopened in a bid to ease the bottleneck, with dozens of ships waiting at both ends of the waterway.
The waterway drastically shortens travel between Asia and Europe because it prevents vessels from having to navigate around southern Africa's Cape of Good Hope.
The Singapore-to-Rotterdam route, for example, is 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) and up to two weeks shorter than going around Africa.
It is an "absolutely critical" route because "all traffic arriving from Asia goes through the Suez Canal," said Camille Egloff, a maritime transport specialist at Boston Consulting Group.
Nearly 19,000 ships passed through the canal last year carrying more than one billion tonnes of cargo, according to the SCA.
Egypt earned $5.61 billion in revenues from the canal in 2020.