Suez Canal traffic not impacted after cargo ship runs aground

A gull flies over the Suez Canal at sunset in Port Said, Egypt, on Jan. 5, 2023. (Photo by Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua via Getty Images)

A cargo vessel ran aground in the Suez Canal on Sunday, but traffic through the global waterway was not impacted, Egyptian authorities said.

The Liberia-flagged MSC Istanbul, heading to Portugal from Malaysia, got stuck in a two-lane part of the Suez Canal, said Adm. Ossama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority. He added that tugboats were deployed to help refloat the vessel.

Despite the situation, convoys were transiting through the waterway without any problems, Rabei said, without elaborating on what had caused the ship to run aground. The Suez Canal allows for passage of two convoys of vessels a day in both directions. Later Sunday and after a five-hour effort, the MSC Istanbul was refloated.

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Built in 2015 and operated by the Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company, the MSC Istanbul is 399 meters (1,309 feet) long and 54 meters (177 feet) wide, according to Marine Traffic, a vessel tracking firm.

The vessel’s length is similar to that of the Ever Given, a colossal container ship that crashed into a bank on a single-lane stretch of the canal in March 2021, blocking the waterway. A massive salvage effort by a flotilla of tugboats helped by the tides freed the skyscraper-sized vessel six days later, ending the crisis, and allowing hundreds of waiting ships to pass through the canal.

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After it was freed, the Ever Given was held for more than three months in Egypt amid a financial dispute with authorities. Its release came after its owner reached a settlement with canal authorities over compensation following weeks of negotiations and a court standoff. Officials did not reveal details on the terms of the settlement but canal authorities had sought more than $900 million in compensation.

The canal’s blockage forced some ships at the time to take the lengthy alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, requiring additional fuel and other costs. Hundreds of other ships waited in place for the blockage to end.

Sunday’s incident was the latest case of a vessel reported stuck in the key global waterway. A tanker transporting liquefied natural gas broke down in the canal last month, also without impacting traffic. In January, a cargo ship carrying corn went aground before being refloated; after a while, traffic through the waterway was restored.

The canal, opened in 1869, provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo. About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, a major source of foreign currency for Egypt.

According to the Suez Canal Authority, last year, 23,851 vessels passed through the waterway, compared to 20,649 vessels in 2021. The revenue from the canal in 2022 reached $8 billion, the highest in the Suez Canal’s history.