View From Space: Stuck in the Suez Canal

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Update March 29, 2021: Rising water levels and dredging efforts in the Suez Canal helped to reflect the Ever Given on Monday. The ship is now freed.

The European Space Imagery has collected satellite imagery of the ship’s freed condition:

 European Space Imaging collected imagery over the Suez Canal, Egypt, highlighting the successful extraction of the stuck Evergreen container ship. The imagery was captured with GeoEye-1 at 50 cm full colour and shows that the container ship that has blocked passage for the last 6 days has now been freed. Multiple tug boats surround the ship in both directions and dredging equipment is still visible in the water. Further upstream, many ships are still awaiting passage to enter the canal.

Satellite image captured with GeoEye-1 at 50 cm resolution ©2021 European Space Imaging
Satellite image captured with GeoEye-1 at 50 cm resolution ©2021 European Space Imaging

This detailed view shows the excavated section of the Suez Canal where dredgers removed part of the bank in order to help free the container ship.

Detailed satellite imager of the freed container ship in the Suez Canal. Satellite image captured with GeoEye-1 at 50 cm resolution ©2021 European Space Imaging.
Detailed satellite imager of the freed container ship in the Suez Canal. Satellite image captured with GeoEye-1 at 50 cm resolution ©2021 European Space Imaging.

European Space Imaging’s GeoEye-1 satellite captured a view of the waiting ships further upstream.

Further upstream from the Ever Given's location are ships waiting to enter the Suez Canal. Satellite image captured with GeoEye-1 at 50 cm resolution ©2021 European Space Imaging.
Further upstream from the Ever Given’s location are ships waiting to enter the Suez Canal. Satellite image captured with GeoEye-1 at 50 cm resolution ©2021 European Space Imaging.

March 26, 2021:

The Ever Given is a 400 meter-long (1,300 foot) cargo ship that has been stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal (which is 200 meters – 656ft wide) since strong winds moved the ship off course and into the side of the canal. The 200,000 container ship first became stuck at 07:40 local time (05:40 GMT) on Tuesday, March 23, leading to the backup of ships in both directions in the canal as the Ever Given blocked traffic. (Note: the lettering on the side of the ship says “Evergreen” which is the name of the company that owns the vessel).

Some of the best vantage views come from space as various satellites are capturing images of the situation in the Suez Canal.

This satellite image from European Space Imaging’s WorldView-2 satellite at 50cm shows the stuck ship on Friday, March 26. Several tug boats and other ships working on dislodging the ship can also be seen in the image.

Satellite image at 50 cm resolution of current dredging efforts to free the Evergreen container ship on the Suez Canal, Egypt. 📷 26/03/2021 by WorldView-2  © 2021 European Space Imaging
Satellite image at 50 cm resolution of current dredging efforts to free the Evergreen container ship on the Suez Canal, Egypt. Image: 26/03/2021 by WorldView-2 © 2021 European Space Imaging

About the Suez Canal

The Suez Canal first opened in November of 1869 after ten years of construction. The canal was the first artificial waterway to connect the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea and is a major shortcut between Europe and Asia. Prior to its opening, ships would travel around the coast of Africa to journey between the two continents.

In 2015, “New Suez Canal”, an expansion, opened after one year of construction. Landsat 8 satellite images show the expansion of the canal’s mid-section. The new construction at the time added  a parallel 35-kilometer (22-mile) strip to accommodate more traffic in the canal system.

The entire Suez Canal system is 193.3 kilometers (120.1 miles) long reaching from from Port Said on the Mediterranean Sea to the Port of Suez on the Red Sea.

Construction of the New Suez Canal.  Satellite images of before and after: August 6, 2014 and April 5, 2016.  Images: Landsat 8.
Construction of the New Suez Canal. Satellite images of before and after: August 6, 2014 and April 5, 2016. Images: Landsat 8.

Ship Traffic Jam

The blockade has resulted in a backup of ships both in the canal and waiting to enter the canal at both ends. The European Space Agency captured satellite imagery before the blockade on March 21 and afterwards on March 25. On March 25, a significantly higher number of waiting boats can be seen in the satellite image.

Sentinel 1 satellite image of the Gulf of Suez on March 21 (L) and March 25 (R ) showing the accumulation of waiting ships after the Ever Given becomes stuck in the Suez Canal.  Images: ESA, CC BY 4.0
Sentinel 1 satellite image of the Gulf of Suez on March 21 (L) and March 25 (R ) showing the accumulation of waiting ships after the Ever Given becomes stuck in the Suez Canal. Images: ESA, CC BY 4.0

Waiting ships must now decide whether to wait out the time it will take to dislodge the Ever Given from the bank of the Suez Canal and clear up the back log of ships or take a very long detour around Africa that can add weeks to the journey.

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