Hong Kong-flagged vessel briefly blocks Egypt's vital Suez Canal

In this photo provided by The Suez Canal Authority in Egypt, the bulk carrier ship Xin Hai Tong 23, left, is towed after it ran aground at the southern mouth of the Suez Canal Thursday, May 25, 2023. The ship was being towed to another area by three tug boats after an "emergency malfunction," the authority said, that caused it to stop sailing, a rescue team of tugboats refloated it soon after. (Suez Canal Authority via AP) (Uncredited, Suez Canal Authority)

DUBAI – A Hong Kong-flagged ship briefly blocked Egypt’s vital Suez Canal on Thursday morning, authorities said, the latest such incident in the busy waterway.

According to Leth Agencies, a canal services company that oversees the waterway, the Xin Hai Tong 23 ran aground before dawn at the southern entrance to the canal, blocking four vessels. The ship was refloated by the Suez Canal Authority a few hours later, the company said, and normal traffic was restored.

However, Egypt's state-run Suez Canal Authority said the vessel had broken down during its transit through the canal due to engine failure. It said the ship was towed away from the area by three tug boats.

The two conflicting accounts as to how the incident unfolded could not be reconciled.

The bulk carrier, measuring about 190 meters (625 feet) by 32 meters (105 feet), had set off for Suez from the Saudi Red Sea port of Duba. Later in the day Thursday, it was at sea about 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) south of the canal, according to Marine Traffic, a vessel tracking firm.

Thursday's incident is the latest in a flurry of ships running aground in the Suez Canal or getting stuck in the crucial waterway over the past few years.

In January, a vessel owned by Greek firm Primera Shipping Inc. broke down at the 38 kilometer (24-mile) mark of the canal, near the Egyptian city of Qantara. In March a Liberia-flagged ship ran aground in the two-lane part of the waterway. Both vessels were refloated hours later.

The most prominent case was that of the skyscraper-sized container ship, the Panama-flagged Ever Given, which ran aground in a single-lane stretch of the canal in March 2021, blocking the waterway. A massive salvage effort by a flotilla of tugboats, helped by the tides, freed it six days later, ending the crisis and allowing hundreds of waiting ships to pass through the canal.

Opened in 1869, the Suez Canal provides a vital link for oil, natural gas and cargo of Egypt’s top foreign currency earners. In 2015, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi ’s government completed a major expansion of the canal, allowing it to accommodate the world’s largest vessels.