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Concern is growing over the disruption of logistics after a large container ship ran aground in the Suez Canal recently and blocked the key waterway.

As it remains unclear when the canal will be reopened, ships may be unable to pass through for some time, affecting the flow of trade. The situation could also worsen the global shortage of containers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The canal in Egypt is a key passage between Asia and Europe. According to major Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen K.K., 10% of the world’s total container traffic is between Asia and Europe and almost all of it uses the Suez Canal.

Due to the recent incident, two Ocean Network Express ships, an operator owned by Nippon Yusen and others, have been unable to pass through the canal. A growing number of ships have been unable to enter the waterway and are now stranded in surrounding waters.

Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. use the canal for exports. The major automakers are still gathering information on the impact of the incident.

The canal is not used for crude oil shipments to Japan, so the impact in that area will be limited.

If the canal remains impassable, ships may have to change their routes and go around the southern tip of Africa, which would add about a week to their travel and lead to extra costs.

Although many ship operators in Japan say that it is too early to decide on any route changes, some have moved to alter their plans.

There is also concern that the global container shortages since autumn last year may worsen if the Suez Canal blockage causes more containers to remain stuck on ships.

The Japanese owner of the stranded ship, the Ever Given, apologized for the incident on Friday.

“We sincerely apologize for causing great concern,” said Yukito Higaki, president of Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., which owns the 220,000-ton vessel.

Work, including the crushing and removal of rocks, is underway to free the ship Saturday evening Japan Standard Time, Higaki said at a news conference in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, where Shoei Kisen is based.

Two large tugboats are being arranged to move the Ever Given, according to Higaki.

The Shoei Kisen chief said the cause of the stranding is still under investigation, but that a sudden change in weather conditions may have made visibility poor.

He said the company will pay compensation in accordance with international and local laws.

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