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What we know about a ship blocking the Suez Canal

EY FIX THIS?

So far, dredgers and tugboats haven't been able to free the ship. An expert salvage team, whose job it is to respond to boat-related disasters, flew from the Netherlands to the canal on Thursday to join the efforts.

Already, it seems the ship's massive weight, some 220,000 tons, could make it impossible to dislodge and float. To lighten the load, the team says it may have to remove at least some of the ship’s containers and drain the vessel of the water serving as ballast before further dredging the area and then trying again to nudge the ship using tugboats.

Officials had indicated initially they didn't want to do that because the unloading itself could take days or weeks.

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WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Over 10% of global trade, including 7% of the world’s oil, passes through the canal. After the blockage, the price of international benchmark Brent crude shot up some 3% to $63 a barrel.

Goods passing through the canal are typically moving from east to west. In addition to oil, liquified natural gas from the Persian Gulf and furniture, clothes and supermarket basics from China use the canal to avoid taking a circuitous 5,000-kilometer (3,1000-mile) route around Africa.

Shipping journal Lloyd’s List estimates that the closed waterway is tying up billions of dollars of goods each day the canal is closed — at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is already causing demand in consumer goods to surge.

Not only will deliveries be delayed, but the jam also prevents the return of empty containers back to Asia, exacerbating a container shortage caused by the pandemic’s disruptions to shipping.

“It’s almost like a ketchup bottle,” said Lars Jensen, chief executive of SeaIntelligence Consulting. “The longer this lasts, the higher risk that we are going to see major congestion problems in the European ports.”

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WHAT IS THE WORLD'S REACTION?

While the real-world consequences of the jam are serious, many also noted the absurdity of the situation in a seemingly endless flood of social media memes.

In one viral post, the gigantic ship was captioned “my tasks,” and the comparatively puny backhoe “me, dutifully chipping away at my tasks.” In another, the boat was “your first draft” and the backhoe “editors.”

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