The Ever Given, sailing under a Panamanian flag bound for The Netherlands from China, ran aground Tuesday morning. The ship was traveling northward through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean from the Red Sea when it ran aground in high winds and a dust storm.
The ship, wedged at an angle across the waterway, now blocks the path of other container vessels in both directions. As of Wednesday, dozens of vessels were in a holding pattern, waiting for rescue boats to free the 1,312-foot cargo ship.
Egypt has reopened the canal's older channel to divert some traffic until the grounded ship can move again.
The Ever Given, registered in Panama, was bound for the port city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands from China and was passing northwards through the canal on its way to the Mediterranean.
The 200,000-ton ship, built in 2018 and operated by Taiwanese transport company Evergreen Marine, ran aground and became lodged sideways across the waterway at about 07:40 local time (05:40 GMT) on Tuesday.
The company that manages the container ship, Bernhard Schulte Ship Management (BSM), has denied earlier reports that the ship had already been partially re-floated.
In a statement, it said its "immediate priorities are to safely re-float the vessel and for marine traffic in the Suez Canal to safely resume."
Experts have warned the process could take several days.
Reuters, quoting local sources, says there are at least 30 ships blocked to the north of the Ever Given, and three to the south.
Evergreen Marine said the ship was "suspected of being hit by a sudden strong wind, causing the hull to deviate ... and accidentally hit the bottom and run aground."
BSM confirmed on Wednesday that all crew were "safe and accounted for," with no reports of injuries.
Eight tug boats are working to re-float the ship, and diggers on the ground have been removing sand from where it is wedged into the side of the canal bank. If unsuccessful, cargo will likely have to be removed in order to free the vessel.
Records indicate that this is the largest vessel ever to go aground in the Suez Canal.
Julianne Cona, who was aboard the Maersk Denver directly behind the Ever Given, shared an image of the vessel on Instagram. "Ship in front of us ran aground while going through the canal and is now stuck sideways looks like we might be here for a little bit..."
According to BBC Business correspondent Theo Leggett, it's a nightmare scenario, and the question now is how long the route remains impassable, as a long delay would create serious problems for shippers, delaying consignments of goods and fuel.
The incident has shown what can go wrong when the new generation of ultra-large vessels like the Ever Given have to pass through the relatively tight confines of the canal. Although parts of it were expanded as part of a major modernization program in the middle of the last decade, it remains tricky to navigate, and accidents can happen.
According to gCaptain.com, "how long the Ever Given remains stuck now depends on how hard aground she is and how favorable the tides are, or aren't."
The Suez Canal has been the site of other events that temporarily snarled shipping traffic. Two container ships, the German-flagged MV Colombo Express and the Singapore-flagged MV Maersk Tanjong, collided in 2014.
In 2015, Egypt completed a 22-mile expansion of the Suez Canal, allowing two-way traffic and accommodating larger vessels.