Suez Canal blockage could disrupt flow of goods in and out of NZ, MFAT 'closely monitoring' situation

A major blockage in the Suez Canal could impact the flow of goods in and out of New Zealand, but it's too soon to tell the extent of the disruption.

On Tuesday (local time), one of the largest container ships in the world - the 200,000-tonne Ever Green - ran aground, blocking vessels passing through the Suez Canal. As the shortest shipping route connecting Europe to Asia, the strait is one of the world's most important waterways, with about 30 percent of global container ship traffic passing through each day, carrying a myriad of products from crude, liquefied natural gas to retail goods.

Roughly 12 percent of world trade, by volume, is carried through the canal.

Sources said the mishap occurred due to bad weather and high winds. Operations to float and free the vessel began on Wednesday morning, with some delays to shipping expected.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) told Newshub on Thursday that officials are monitoring the situation closely. It's understood the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) is working to refloat the vessel to allow "shipping transits to resume as soon as possible", they said.

"The ministry is in close contact with port authorities to understand the impact on New Zealand's trade flows."

A spokesman for the Ports of Auckland (POAL) said it's "too soon to tell" whether the blockage will affect New Zealand's imports.

"It's a bit wait and see," he told Newshub. 

"The main impact will be congestion at European ports which will delay their imports, but also the return of empty containers to Asia, which will add to the global empty container shortage.

"We'll have to wait and see how quickly the ship can be moved."

A spokeswoman for ExportNZ, a division of BusinessNZ, echoed POAL's stance, but sounded hopeful the issue should be resolved quickly.

"[It's] probably too early to say if it will affect Kiwi exporters. It sounds like they will have it open again in a couple of days, so while it will slow things down for some, that may not be on our normal trade route anyway," she said. 

As of Thursday morning (NZ time), the canal remains blocked, with eight tug boats struggling to free the container ship.

GAC, a Dubai-based marine services company, said authorities were still working to free the ship. It said earlier information claiming the vessel was partially refloated was inaccurate.

The SCA's chairman told local media the authority is attempting to keep traffic flowing between waiting areas while salvage efforts continue.

"Once we get this boat out, then that's it, things will go back to normal. God willing, we'll be done today," Chairman Osama Rabie said. 

The authority was considering compensation for delayed ships, he said.

Dozens of ships carrying crude, liquefied natural gas and consumer goods were unable to sail through the canal on Wednesday (local time), potentially disrupting supplies to global markets, shipping sources said.

Oil analytics firm Vortexa said 10 tankers carrying 13 million barrels of crude could be affected, with oil prices rising by more than 2 percent as a result.

During 2020, nearly 19,000 ships, or an average of 51.5 per day, passed through the canal, according to the SCA.

"It increases the risk that we might see additional port congestion in European ports in the next week," said Lars Jensen, chief executive at SeaIntelligence Consulting.