The owners of a giant container vessel blocking the Suez Canal said they were facing "extreme difficulty" refloating it, prompting Egypt to suspend navigation through one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said it was trying to refloat the Panama-flagged MV Ever Given, a 400-metre (1,300-foot) long vessel, operated by Evergreen Marine, which veered off course and ran aground in a sandstorm on Tuesday.
Satellite pictures released by Planet Labs Inc show the 59-metre wide container ship wedged diagonally across the entire canal.
Japanese ship-leasing firm Shoei Kisen Kaisha said it owned the giant vessel and was facing "extreme difficulty" trying to refloat it.
"In co-operation with local authorities and Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, a vessel management company, we are trying to refloat (the ship), but we are facing extreme difficulty," Shoei Kisen Kaisha said in a statement on its website.
"We sincerely apologise for causing a great deal of worry to ships in the Suez Canal and those planning to go through the canal."
As shipping specialists warned it could take days or even weeks to budge the vessel, the Suez Canal Authority announced it was "temporarily suspending navigation".
Maritime sources told AFP today that a new dredger had been deployed to speed up the operation while northern convoy ships remain docked in the waiting areas of the canal.
The blockage has already hit world oil markets. Crude futures surged 6% yesterday as traders assessed the likely impact on deliveries.
Broker Braemar warned that if tug boats are unable to move the giant vessel, some of its cargo might have to be removed by crane barge to refloat it.
"This can take days, maybe weeks," it said.
The vessel's managers, Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), said its 25 crew were unhurt and the hull and cargo undamaged.
A MarineTraffic map showed large clusters of vessels circling as they waited in both the Mediterranean to the north and the Red Sea to the south.
Historic sections of the canal were reopened in a bid to ease the bottleneck, with dozens of ships waiting at both ends of the waterway.
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The waterway drastically shortens travel between Asia and Europe because it prevents vessels from having to navigate around southern Africa's Cape of Good Hope.
The Singapore-to-Rotterdam route, for example, is 6,000km and up to two weeks shorter than going around Africa.
It is an "absolutely critical" route because "all traffic arriving from Asia goes through the Suez Canal," said Camille Egloff, a maritime transport specialist at Boston Consulting Group.
Nearly 19,000 ships passed through the canal last year carrying more than one billion tonnes of cargo, according to the SCA.
Egypt earned $5.61bn (€4.75bn) in revenues from the canal in 2020.