Why Does the Suez Canal Keep Getting Blocked and What Is the Fallout?

A bulk carrier ship was briefly stuck in the Suez Canal on Thursday, marking the latest such incident following the case of Ever Given, a giant container ship that was lodged sideways in the waterway back in March.

Reuters reported the Panama-flagged Coral Crystal carrying 43,000 tons of cargo, was temporarily stuck in the northern section of the canal, according to a statement from the Suez Canal Authority (SCA). The ship was refloated and there was no impact on traffic on the waterway, the SCA statement said.

According to VesselFinder, which provides daily real-time data on the positions and movements of over 200,000 vessels, the Coral Crystal is currently sailing in the Red Sea en route to Port Sudan, as of September 10.

Why Are Ships Getting Stuck in the Suez Canal?

Speaking to Newsweek, a spokesperson for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of the United Nations said: "For any incident, there would be an investigation and we would need to wait for that investigation into the cause of any incident and any recommendations stemming from that.

"So it is not possible to say why such incidents occur without knowing the full facts," the IMO spokesperson said.

In the latest case of the Coral Crystal, the SCA said the ship experienced a problem while heading south through the canal but ships behind it were diverted via a parallel channel, Reuters reported Thursday.

Leth Agencies, a canal service provider for the Suez and other waterways, tweeted Thursday: "M/v Coral Crystal faced engine trouble and grounded at Km 54 1114 Hrs SB."

Initial investigations of the Ever Given incident suggested the vessel was grounded due to strong wind and ruled out any mechanical or engine failure as a cause of the grounding, according to Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM).

BSM said in a statement on April 29 that "there were no reports of pollution or cargo damage."

What's Been the Fallout of Ships Blocking the Suez?

A canal official told The National, the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, that the Coral Crystal's blockage "was a minor traffic issue that was resolved in less than an hour."

Leth Agencies tweeted Thursday the Coral Crystal incident "did not affect the southbound convoy, as remaining vessels were able to pass."

However, the Ever Given's blockage of the Suez had greater consequences after being stuck sideways in the canal for nearly a week.

Even after it was freed and deemed fit for onward travel by its technical managers, the the vessel remained in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake for months after it was seized by the Egyptian government, which sought $900 million in compensation for costs arising from its rescue.

Connecting Europe and Asia, the Suez Canal is one of the world's most important trade routes. Around 19,000 ships passed through the canal in 2020, according to the SCA, which amounts to around 52 each day.

The Ever Given was freed after being refloated on March 29. That day, at least 369 ships were waiting to transit the canal, the head of SCA, Osama Rabie, said at the time.

This included dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels.

Leth Agencies reported at the time that at least 572 vessels transited the canal after it reopened on March 29.

In a statement on May 2, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) explained: "When the Ever Given megaship blocked traffic in the Suez Canal for almost a week in March, it triggered a new surge in container spot freight rates, which had finally started to settle from the all-time highs reached during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The rise in shipping rates, which form a major portion of trade costs, "poses an additional challenge to the world economy as it struggles to recover from the worst global crisis since the Great Depression," the UNCTAD said.

Container rates have an impact on global trade because nearly all manufactured goods, such as clothes, medicines and processed food products, are shipped in containers, the UNCTAD said.

The head of UNCTAD's trade and logistics branch, Jan Hoffmann, said: "About 80 percent of the goods we consume are carried by ships, but we easily forget this.

"The Ever Given incident reminded the world just how much we rely on shipping," Hoffman said in the UNCTAD statement.

Newsweek has contacted the SCA, UNCTAD, Leth Agencies and Dubai-based port agent GAC for comment.

The Ever Given ship in the Suez.
A view of the Ever Given container ship sailing along Egypt's Suez Canal, pictured in July. Mahmoud KHALED / AFP