Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes

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Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
Planet Labs Inc satellite image shows the Ever Given stranded in the Suez Canal, Egypt March 23, 2021.Planet Labs via Reuters
  • The huge Ever Given container ship has been stuck in the Suez Canal for more than 72 hours.
  • Mariners have tried to dig and pull the ship out, so far without success.
  • Pictures show a timeline of the grounding of the vessel that has hit global trade.

The Ever Given, the massive container ship stuck in Egypt's Suez Canal, was still wedged in place as of midday Friday local time.

As the crisis caused by the stuck ship entered its fourth day, the closure of a crucial globe shipping lane sent supply chains deeper into chaos.

Some shipping firms were beginning to divert vessels bound for Suez to instead travel the whole way around Africa, adding thousands of miles, days in delays, and vast extra expenses to their voyages.

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The ship's Japanese owner is now aiming to get the ship out by Saturday, but some experts predict that the task could take weeks to accomplish.

Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
The Ever Green with its bow stuck in the wall of the Suez Canal.Suez Canal Authority via AP

Here is how events unfolded:

Tuesday morning: The Ever Given gets stuck

These maps show that the Ever Given took a meandering route before heading into the canal.

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The ship, which sails under a Panamanian flag, was headed for Rotterdam, Netherlands, from the Yantian district of China, according to the ship-tracking site Vessel Finder.

Since its grounding became big news, some on social media noted the unfortunate shape traced by its path:

A mariner onboard another ship, the Maersk vessel MV Denver, later wrote that the Ever Given cut in line ahead of the Denver, as shown in this Instagram comment, which was posted to Twitter by somebody else:

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At around 7.40 a.m. local time Tuesday, the cargo ship ran aground.

At nearly 200 feet wide and 1,300 feet long, it easily took up the width of the channel.

Officials attributed the accident to high winds and sandstorms. Sandstorms are not unusual at this time of year in Egypt.

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Early reports suggested the ship's power failed, leading it to drift from its course. The was contradicted by the ship's technical manager Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which said in a statement to Insider that "initial investigations rule out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding."

A satellite managed to capture a view of the Ever Given from space on Tuesday:

Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
Planet Labs Inc satellite image shows the Ever Given stranded in the Suez Canal, Egypt March 23, 2021.Planet Labs via Reuters

Egyptian authorities attempted to tow the ship

Eight tugs were in action trying to tow the vessel on Wednesday. A satellite image shows the position of the Ever Given, represented by a green dot, surrounded by some tugs, marked in blue. Their relative size is not to scale.

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Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
A satellite view as of 3.40 p.m. local time Wednesday showing the Ever Given and surrounding traffic.MarineTraffic.com

Here is a view of one tugboat, the Baraka 1, in front of the Ever Given, provided by the Suez Canal Authority on Wednesday:

Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
The Ever Given, shown here behind a smaller vessel, was still stranded on Wednesday, March 24, 2021 in the Suez Canal.Suez Canal Authority via AP

Here is video of the attempts to move the ship:

Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, chair of the SCA, talked to staff on a boat nearby:

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Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
Lt. Gen. Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, second right, speaks to other staff onboard a boat near the stuck cargo ship MV Ever Green Wednesday, March 24, 2021.Suez Canal Authority via AP

A 'bulbous bow' to blame?

John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab, suggested that the design of the ship's bow - a large, bulbous prong embedded in the bank of the canal - could help explain how it got so badly stuck.

The internet has its say

The spectacle of the stuck ship has attracted onlookers beyond the shipping trade, and soon became a meme.

A particular favorite were references to the spy parody "Austin Powers" movies, in which a vehicle gets stuck in a corridor.

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Insider gathered many of the best memes here.

Shipping companies get tangled up in the delay

In a statement to Insider on Wednesday, Danish shipping company Maersk said seven of its vessels had been held up by the blockage.

"Four of them are stuck in the canal system while the rest are waiting to enter the passage," the statement read.

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Satellite imagery below shows the crowds of vessels gathering Wednesday as they try to pass through from both sides.

Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
A satellite view as of 3.40 p.m. local time Wednesday showing the Ever Given and surrounding traffic.MarineTraffic.com

The Suez Canal received an upgrade in 2015, when a newer channel was built alongside the one originally opened in 1869.

On its opening, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called it "Egypt's gift to the world."

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According to professor Rocky Weitz, director of the Fletcher Maritime Studies Program at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, the old channel provided partial relief to the blockage.

"Ships have been diverted to the older channel to provide some relief to the current blockage," he told Insider. "But the older channel is smaller, so larger vessels will need to wait until the main channel is reopened."

These side-by-side satellite images show the canal in 2014 (on the left) and 2016 (on the right), after the newer channel opened:

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Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
(L) The Suez Canal in 2014, before its expansion. (R) shows the canal in 2016, with the new channel.Landsat

An announcement that the ship had been refloated was quickly quashed

Hope appeared at around noon on Wednesday. Shipping agent GAC Egypt, citing the SCA, said that the ship had been moved "alongside" the canal bank, meaning it was parallel to the waterway.

"Convoys and traffic are expected to resume as soon as vessel is towed to another position," the announcement read.

But according to Bloomberg, the SCA has made no such announcement.

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An assistant manager at GAC Egypt, Ahmed Mekawy, said that the company had received inaccurate information, The Independent reported.

Thursday: a Dutch company is drafted in to help

Dutch engineering company Boskalis - experts in dredging - joined the efforts to free the ship Thursday.

CEO Peter Berdowski summed up the problem: "It is like an enormous beached whale. It's an enormous weight on the sand," he said, according to Reuters.

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The combined efforts of winches, excavation equipment and tugboats had so far failed, even at high tide. Berdowski said that the ship may need to be lightened, as both its bow and stern had been lifted up on either side of the canal.

Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
The stranded Ever Given viewed from land on March 25, 2021Ahmed Fahmy/Reuters

The scale of the work ahead was illustrated by this picture released by the Suez Canal Authority Thursday:

Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
The Ever Given, trapped in the Suez Canal, Egypt, as of Thursday March 25 2021.Suez Canal Authority

The Ever Given must be moved to avoid major knock-on effects

The Suez Canal is crucial to global supply chains. According to The Wall Street Journal, 19,000 ships passed through it in 2020.

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Cargo shipping has been under enormous strain in the pandemic, with major difficulties in refreshing crews or servicing vessels, as Insider reported. The Ever Given's position is another wrench in the works.

Shipping companies have begun considering expensive alternatives, such as air freight and taking the alternative route around the southern tip of Africa.

Nobody knows when the canal will reopen, but the ship's owner is aiming at Saturday

The Ever Given's Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen, said Friday it was sending more tugboats and that it would aim to re-float it by around noon Saturday local time, Nikkei Asia reported.

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Berdowski, the Dutch dredging CEO, said it could take far longer. "We can't exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation," Reuters reported him as saying.

Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
Officials reviewing the situation at the Ever Given in this image released Thursday, March 25 2021.Suez Canal Authority


Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
Stranded container ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, is seen after it ran aground, in Suez Canal, Egypt March 26, 2021Suez Canal Authority via Reuters
Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
A satellite image shows the "Ever Given" and idling ships at the entrance of the Suez Canal, Egypt March 25, 2021.Planet Labs Inc./Handout via Reuters

Choices, none of them good

On Thursday, the Suez Canal Authority announced in a statement it was bringing in dredgers in order to move more than 700,000 cubic tons of sand from around the Ever Given so the ship could get moving again.

The area to be dredged is the size of eight swimming pools.

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"In addition to the dredgers already on site a specialized suction dredger is now with the vessel and will shortly begin work. This dredger can shift 2,000 cubic meters of material every hour," Ever Given's managing company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, said in a statement.

The operation could take days. Another technique to use would be to remove cargo in a process called lightering, making it easier for the ship to float by itself.

"We might have to work with a combination of reducing the weight by removing containers, oil, and water from the ship; tugboats; and dredging of sand," Reuters reported Berdowski, the Dutch CEO, as saying.

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According to John Denholm, the president of the UK Chamber of Shipping, this would mean using cranes and specialist vessels called lighter barges and tanker barges, all of which would have to be brought to the site.

"If we go through the lightering process, I suspect we're talking weeks," he told BBC Radio Four's Today Programme.

Photos and maps show how an enormous container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking one of the world's most vital shipping routes
Stranded container ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, is seen after it ran aground, in Suez Canal, Egypt March 26, 2021Suez Canal Authority via Reuters
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