An unlikely maritime traffic jam is blocking one of the world’s most important shipping lanes after a massive cargo ship got stuck sideways across the waterway.

Tankers were seen lining up for hours near the entrance of Egypt’s Suez Canal, which accounts for 12 percent for world trade and usually sees 50 cargo ships pass between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea daily.

A severe dust storm and poor visibility are to blame for the 220,000-tonne, 400-meter (1,312 feet) container vessel turning sideways near the Southern end of the canal on Tuesday morning.

Egyptian officials at the Suez Canal Authority confirmed they are still trying to refloat the ship, named Ever Given, after it ran aground on its journey from China to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Several rescue attempts to dislodge the ship have so far failed.

A boat navigates in front of a massive cargo ship, after it turned sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal, blocking traffic in a crucial East-West waterway for global shipping.Suez Canal Authority / AP

Ships in the Suez Canal were being diverted to an older channel on Wednesday after the cargo ship’s stranded status passed the 24-hour mark.

“All crew are safe and accounted for,” said Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which manages the Ever Given. “There have been no reports of injuries or pollution.”

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The ship is operated by the Taiwanese shipping company Evergreen and is registered in Panama.

Reports of the bottleneck emerged after satellite data showed the Ever Given’s bow was touching the canal’s eastern wall, while its stern looked lodged against its western wall and an image posted to Instagram by a user on another waiting cargo ship showed the vessel jammed across the canal.

A shipping monitor site showed the troubled ship surrounded by smaller tug boats trying to dislodge it from the banks.

Officials said the canal would “spare no effort” in ensuring global trade traffic can continue. The blockage, however, is likely to incur shipping delays. According to an oil export tracker, “tankers carrying Saudi, Russian, Omani and U.S. oil are waiting on both ends.”

An alternative route for the Asia-Europe container trade flows would take a week longer, Tan Hua Joo, a consultant with Liner Research, told Reuters.

Nearly 19,000 ships with a net tonnage of 1.17 billion tonnes passed through the canal last year, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

No U.S. Navy ships are impacted by the closure, a 5th fleet spokesperson told NBC News.

Traffic jams are rare on the Suez Canal. In 2017, a Japanese container vessel blocked the canal but Egyptian authorities refloated the ship within hours.

Suez is still remembered for being at the heart of an international crisis in 1956 after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nassar nationalized the canal, previously in British and French ownership. The move led to a failed invasion and a humiliation for the western European powers.

Yasmine Salam

Yasmine Salam is a news associate for NBC News based in London. 

Charlene Gubash and Reuters



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