A massive container ship stuck sideways in Egypt’s Suez Canal has been blocking one of the world’s busiest waterways for over 24 hours, disrupting global trade and launching a tidal wave of memes on social media.
On Tuesday morning local time, the Ever Given, a 1,312-foot-long container ship capable of carrying more than 220,000 tons, was traveling from China to the Netherlands through the canal when Egyptian authorities say a dust storm brought low visibility and heavy winds that caused the ship to run aground.
With the bow of the ship touching the eastern wall of the canal and the stern against the western wall, the vessel completely blocked the waterway, leaving dozens of smaller ships stranded for hours on both sides.
Ever Given’s technical manager Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said in a statement that all the ship’s crew members are “safe and accounted for” and that “There have been no reports of injuries, pollution or cargo damage.”
Shipping traffic also appears to be moving slowly again; the New York Times reports that the canal authority is diverting ships through an older section of the canal to help ease the backup.
But real-time satellite imagery from the online shipping tracker Vessel Finder showed the Ever Given still lodged firmly in the narrow channel as of late Wednesday.
The blocked canal is causing headaches for global trade
Completed in 1869, the Suez Canal provides one of the shortest maritime routes between Asia and Europe by connecting the Mediterranean and Red Seas and allowing ships to avoid having to go around the Horn of Africa.
Some 80 percent of the world’s trade travels by sea, and around 12 percent moves through the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal is also an important route for tankers transporting fossil gas and oil.
In an effort to increase traffic, the Egyptian government undertook an $8 billion expansion of the Canal back in 2015, extracting 260,000 tons of sand to build a new channel and deepen and widen sections of the old canal. In 2020, 19,000 ships passed through the canal — more than 50 ships per day.
Which means a giant ship blocking the canal for over 24 hours has the potential to cause major disruptions in global trade. For instance, experts warn the blockage could have a knock-on effect on ports in other regions in the world that depend on cargo passing through the Suez Canal.
“It increases the risk that we might see additional port congestion in European ports in the next week,” Lars Jensen, chief executive at SeaIntelligence Consulting, which analyzes the shipping industry, told Reuters.
Canal authorities are working furiously to try to refloat the stranded vessel, using tugboats to attempt to dislodge it while earthmovers dig out sand on the canal bank where the ship is stuck.
“The Suez Canal will not spare any efforts to ensure the restoration of navigation and to serve the movement of global trade,” Osama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said, according to the Associated Press.
“Once we get this boat out, then that’s it, things will go back to normal. God willing, we’ll be done today,” Rabei added.
Experts have warned, though, that the operation could take days. In the meantime, the internet is having a field day over the incident.
The ship memes, they are good
In the midst of a global pandemic that has caused untold tragedy for millions around the world, the internet will take any excuse to make good-natured jokes about an incident that, while certainly unfortunate and potentially disruptive to global trade, has still been relatively innocuous, all things considered.
And the jokes have been very good.
Many, many, many people compared the situation to a scene in the movie Austin Powers in which the titular character, played by Mike Myers, attempts a three-point turn while driving a cart in a narrow hallway, with hilarious results.
Others saw the ship as a metaphor for — well, a lot of things, really.
Others sympathized with the boat’s captain, who is presumably not having a great couple of days.
While others lamented the herculean task faced by what seemed to be just a couple of guys with an excavator.
Finally, some people bent their minds toward coming up with creative ideas for how to free the ship:
So far, though, none of these suggestions seem to have done the trick.
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