• Shipping has been blocked from passing through the Suez Canal after a cargo ship became stranded.
  • The Suez Canal first opened for nativgation more than 100 years ago and is a vital route for global trade.
  • It saves ships from having to pass around the southern tip of Africa.

The Suez Canal has been thrust into the global spotlight after a cargo ship became stranded, blocking travel through one of the world's most important trade routes in both directions.

The 400-metre long Ever Given, almost as long as the Empire State Building is high, ran aground diagonally across the single-lane stretch of the southern canal on Tuesday morning. It had lost the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said in a statement.

Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch company Boskalis, which is trying to free the ship, said it was too early to say how long the job might take.

“We can’t exclude it might take weeks, depending on the situation,” Berdowski told the Dutch television programme “Nieuwsuur”.

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The incident has caused ships to back-up as they wait to transit through the canal.

Ship-tracking data reveals a huge traffic jam of ships building on either side of the Ever Given.
A major traffic jam.
Image: Reuters

Here's a look at the canal in numbers, using figures from the Suez Canal Authority and Reuters.

1869 - The year the canal opened for navigation.

193.3 km - The total length of the canal.

12 to 16 hours - How long it takes a vessel to transit through the canal.

365 - Number of days a year the canal is open for navigation.

313m - The width of the water's surface, although the width of the navigation channel is between 200m and 210m.

Roughly 30% - Percentage of the world's shipping container volume that transits through the canal.

12% - Percentage of total global trade of all goods that passes through the canal.

3,315 nautical miles - Distance saving for a vessel travelling from Tokyo to Rotterdam via the canal rather than via the southern tip of Africa - a 23% saving.

One week - Additional journey time if some firms are forced to re-route ships caught in the delay via the southern tip of Africa.