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With ship now freed, a probe into Suez Canal blockage begins

When blame gets assigned, it will likely lead to years of litigation to recoup the costs of repairing the ship, fixing the canal and reimbursing those who saw their cargo shipments disrupted.

March 30, 2021  by Associated Press

Experts boarded the massive container ship on Mar. 30 that had blocked Egypt’s vital Suez Canal and disrupted global trade for nearly a week, seeking answers to a single question that could have billions of dollars in legal repercussions: What went wrong?

As convoys of ships again began travelling through the artery linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas, a canal service provider said more than 300 vessels carrying everything from crude oil to cattle were still waiting for their turn in a process that will take days. Egyptian government officials, insurers, shippers and others similarly waited for more details about what caused the skyscraper-sized Ever Given to become wedged across the canal on March 23.

When blame gets assigned, it will likely lead to years of litigation to recoup the costs of repairing the ship, fixing the canal and reimbursing those who saw their cargo shipments disrupted. Since the vessel is owned by a Japanese firm, operated by a Taiwanese shipper, flagged in Panama and now stuck in Egypt, matters quickly become an international morass.

“This ship is a multinational conglomeration,” said Capt. John Konrad, the founder and CEO of the shipping news website gcaptain.com.

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Experts boarded the Ever Given as it idled on Mar. 30 in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, just north of the site where it previously blocked the canal. A senior canal pilot, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to journalists, told The Associated Press that experts were looking for signs of damage and trying to determine why the vessel ran aground.

There could be significant damage to the the ship, Konrad warned. Stuck for days across the canal, the ship’s middle rose and fell with the tide, bending up and down under the tremendous weight of some 20,000 containers across its 400-meter (quarter-mile) length. On Mar. 29, when workers partially floated the ship, all that pressure came forward to its bow.

The ship’s owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., said on Mar. 30 that it would be part of the investigation along with other parties, though it did not identify them by name. It also refused to discuss possible causes of the grounding, including the ship’s speed and the high winds that buffeted it during a sandstorm, saying it could not comment on an ongoing investigation. Initial reports also suggested a “blackout” struck the vessel, something denied by the ship’s technical manager.

The unprecedented shutdown, which raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers, added to strain on the shipping industry already under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.