Shipping and Cargo

Five things to know about the cargo ship blocking the Suez Canal

A massive 1,300-foot cargo ship remains stuck in the Suez Canal after running aground nearly a week ago and becoming wedged sideways in the waterway, blocking all traffic through the vital shipping lane and causing major traffic jams in the Mediterranean and Red seas.

It soon became clear that major trade delays were on the horizon and would grow with each day the ship wasn't freed.

Experts and officials are exploring multiple options to refloat the skyscraper-length vessel, but as of Sunday afternoon, its bow section remained wedged in sand and rock.

Here are five things to know about the grounded ship and the broader issues it is creating around the world.

1. The ship ran aground Tuesday, with high winds and human error being blamed as possible causes.

Dubbed the Ever Given, the Panamanian-flagged vessel is a 1,300-foot cargo ship, one of the largest in the world. It is operated by a Taiwanese company and owned by a Japanese company. The 25-member crew is Indian and remains on board in "good spirits" and unharmed, according to officials.

An official investigation into the cause of the ship running aground has yet to be completed, but Evergreen Marine, the Taiwanese firm that built the ship and operates it, said in a statement that the vessel was "suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to deviate ... and accidentally hit the bottom and run aground."

The head of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), Osama Rabie, poured cold water on Evergreen Marine's explanation at a press conference on Saturday, raising the possibility of human error as a cause.

"Strong winds and weather factors were not the main reasons for the ship's grounding. There may have been technical or human errors," he said.

2. Some progress is being made, but no timeline has been issued for refloating the Ever Given.

SCA officials say that they've had some success in their work to restore rudder control to the ship, while The New York Times reported that workers had dredged about 16 meters on the canal's eastern bank. Efforts to refloat the ship can be undertaken only during high tide, with experts hoping a higher-than-usual tide Monday will free it.

"I honestly cannot say exactly when we will finish. Maybe today, God willing. Maybe tomorrow. It depends on the situation. It depends on how the ship responds," Rabie said on Sunday. "When dealing with a ship of this size, its behavior with the dredgers is unknown. We don't know how it will respond to the pulling."

3. The shipping industry will face a serious crunch if delays extend beyond Monday.

More than 320 ships are currently on either side of the Suez Canal awaiting the Ever Given's removal. An analysis from Lloyd's List first reported by CNBC on Thursday estimated that the pileup was delaying $400 million an hour in the worldwide trade of goods, while The Washington Post reported that many companies operating vessels unable to proceed through the channel could face higher costs than they can afford related to delayed goods as well as increased maintenance and fuel costs.

"It is a vital passage for ships leaving through the Mediterranean to the Gulf region and beyond. If the canal is shut off for these ships, there could be an increase of three weeks in passage time if they have to go around Africa via the Gulf, depending on their final destination," Paul Sullivan, an expert on international security and economics at the National Defense University, told The Hill on Sunday.

If the delays extend beyond Monday, worldwide commercial trade could be seriously affected, according to The New York Times, with hundreds of ships forced to take longer routes around Africa.

4. The Pentagon has acknowledged that the stoppage will affect U.S. defense but hasn't specified how.

In a statement to The Hill on Sunday, a Navy spokesperson said, "We are not going to talk about specific operational impacts. The Suez Canal is an essential maritime choke point, and the longer passage is suspended, the more impact it will have to civilian and military transits."

The spokesperson stressed that the Navy has "alternate capabilities to mitigate impact" caused by the traffic stoppage, though they didn't provide further details. Most alternative travel through the area by U.S. naval forces would likely be more costly simply due to the convenience presented by the canal when it is in working order. The rerouting of other cargo ships and the concentration of ships in the area could raise their own security issues, to which the Navy could be forced to respond as well.

"The longer the canal is closed, the more likely many more cargo ships, oil tankers and more will chose the route all the way around Africa or at least along the east coast to then turn towards more westerly destinations. This would potentially give pirates and others with ill intent more targets of opportunities. This might further draw down the capacities of many coast guards and navies," Sullivan told The Hill.

"There are vital seagoing choke points with tight channels that the world relies on massively for trade and the world and national economies. The economic effect of shutting any of these may spur security issues in many places on their own," he added.

5. The U.S. has offered to aid in the efforts to free the ship but is not officially involved yet.

President Biden told reporters on Friday that the U.S. was offering to help but is not actively involved in the extraction of the ship. The Egyptian-led effort so far has called in support from the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, according to the Post.

"We have equipment and capacity that most countries don't have. And we are seeing what help we can be," Biden said from his home state of Delaware.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also addressed the issue at a press conference, saying the administration had "offered U.S. assistance to Egyptian authorities to help reopen the canal" and was having ongoing conversations "about how we can best support those efforts."

"We have offered, and stand ready to assist Egypt, and will look to support any specific request we receive," Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Jessica McNulty said in a statement. "We continue to monitor and assess the situation, but have nothing to provide on any potential specific support at this time."

Two U.S. defense officials told CNN in an article published Friday that the Navy was sending a team of dredging experts to the area that could arrive as soon as Saturday, but that team's involvement has not been officially confirmed.

Updated at 3:40 p.m.