Delays in unloading spell delays in loading the next shipment. Agricultural exporters in the American Midwest have struggled to secure containers to send soybeans and grains to food processors and animal feed suppliers in Southeast Asia.

This situation has held for four months, while showing few signs of easing. Retailers in North America have been frantically restocking depleted inventories, putting a strain on shipping companies in what is normally the slack season on trans-Pacific routes.

The blockage of the Suez Canal effectively sidelines more containers. The question is how long this lasts.

Two weeks could strand as much as one-fourth of the supply of containers that would normally be in European ports, estimated Christian Roeloffs, chief executive officer of xChange, a shipping consultant in Hamburg, Germany.

“Considering the current container shortage, it just increases the turnaround time for the ships,” Mr. Roeloffs said.

Three-fourths of all container ships traveling from Asia to Europe arrived late in February, according to Sea-Intelligence, a research company in Copenhagen. Even a few days of disruption in the Suez could exacerbate that situation.

If the Suez remains clogged for more than a few days, the stakes would rise drastically. Ships now stuck in the canal will find it difficult to turn around and pursue other routes given the narrowness of the channel.

Those now en route to the Suez may opt to head south and navigate around Africa, adding weeks to their journeys and burning additional fuel — a cost ultimately borne by consumers.

Whenever ships again move through the canal, they are likely to arrive at busy ports all at once, forcing many to wait before they can unload — an additional delay.

“This could make a really bad crisis even worse,” said Alan Murphy, the founder of Sea-Intelligence.

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