Vessel runs aground, briefly blocking Suez Canal

This is a locator map for Egypt with its capital, Cairo. (AP Photo)

This is a locator map for Egypt with its capital, Cairo. (AP Photo)

CAIRO (AP) — An oil tanker ran aground Wednesday in Egypt’s Suez Canal, briefly blocking traffic in the global waterway before it was freed, the canal’s authority said.

The Singaporean-flagged Affinity V vessel had become wedged in a single-lane stretch of the canal, the Suez Canal Authority’s head Osama Rabie said in a statement issued by the body.

He said that five of the authority’s tug boats managed to get the vessel floating again in a coordinated operation. He said a technical failure in the boat’s steering mechanism caused it to hit the bank of the canal, and that navigation for other ships passing through the canal had returned to normal.

A spokesman for Suez Canal Authority told the government-affiliated Extra News satellite television channel that the ship ran aground around 7.15 p.m. local time, and was floating again some five hours later.

Geroge Safwat said the vessel was part of a convoy heading south to the Red Sea. Two convoys transit through the Suez Canal everyday; One north-bound to the Mediterranean and the other south-bound to the Red Sea. The man-made waterway divides continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula, and provides a crucial link for oil, natural gas and cargo.

The ship was built in 2016 with a length of 252 meters (827 feet) and a width of 45 meters (148 feet). It sailed from Portugal and its destination was the Saudi Arabian Red Sea port of Yanbu, according to the spokesman.

Wednesday’s incident was not the first to block the crucial waterway. Buffeted by a sandstorm, the Panama-flagged Ever Given, a colossal container ship, had crashed into a bank of a single-lane stretch of the canal in March 2021.

The Japanese-owned Ever Given blocked the canal for six days before being released in a massive salvage effort by a flotilla of tugboats. That created a massive traffic jam that held up $9 billion a day in global trade and strained supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic.

In September 2021, another large shipping vessel ran aground before authorities managed to free it within hours.

Following the March 2021 incident, canal authorities began working to widen and deepen the waterway’s southern part where the Ever Given ran aground.

About 10% of world trade flows through the canal, a pivotal source of foreign currency to Egypt. Authorities said 20,649 vessels passed through the canal last year, a 10% increase compared to 18,830 vessels in 2020. The annual revenues of the canal reached $6.3 billion in 2021, the highest in its history.