Billions in Global Trade Dollars Remain on Hold Even as Suez Canal Jam Begins to Move Again

A container ship that blocked passage through the Suez Canal caused billions of dollars in global trade items to be delayed as workers made efforts to free the ship and enable easy passage through the canal once again.

The Ever Given got stuck in the canal last week and blocked the passage of more than 360 ships before workers successfully freed it on Monday, according to the Associated Press. An estimated $9 billion in global trade has been delayed each day as a result of the canal blockage, the AP reported.

The delays came in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which the World Trade Organization predicted at the onset of the pandemic last spring would result in a drop in global trade.

Suez Canal blockage
The container ship, the "Ever Given" is seen at the Suez Canal on March 28, in Suez, Egypt. The ship ran aground in the canal on March 23, after being caught in 40-knot winds. Dredgers have been working on the port side of the ship in an attempt to remove sand and mud and dislodge the vessel. Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images

For more reporting on this story from the Associated Press, see below.

Video released by the Suez Canal Authority showed the Ever Given being escorted by the tugboats that helped free it, each sounding off their horns in jubilation after nearly a week of chaos.

"We pulled it off!" said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, in a statement. "I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given…thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again."

The obstruction has created a massive traffic jam in the vital passage, holding up $9 billion each day in global trade and straining supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.

It remained unclear when traffic through the canal would return to normal. At least 367 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, have piled up on either end of the canal, waiting to pass.

Data firm Refinitiv estimated it could take more than 10 days to clear the backlog of ships. Meanwhile, dozens of vessels have opted for the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa's southern tip—a 5,000-kilometer (3,100-mile) detour that adds some two weeks to journeys and costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

The freeing of the vessel came after dredgers vacuumed up sand and mud from the vessel's bow and 10 tugboats pushed and pulled the vessel for five days, managing to partially refloat it at dawn.

It wasn't clear whether the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship hauling goods from Asia to Europe, would continue to its original destination of Rotterdam or if it would need to enter another port for repairs.

Ship operators did not offer a timeline for the reopening of the crucial canal, which carries over 10 percent of global trade, including 7 percent of the world's oil. Over 19,000 ships passed through last year, according to canal authorities.

Millions of barrels of oil and liquified natural gas flow through the artery from the Persian Gulf to Europe and North America. Goods made in China—furniture, clothes, supermarket basics—bound for Europe also must go through the canal, or else take the detour around Africa.

The unprecedented shutdown had threatened to disrupt oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East and raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers.

The salvage operation successfully relied on tugs and dredgers alone, allowing authorities to avoid the far more complex and lengthy task of lightening the vessel by offloading its 20,000 containers.