Though the huge Ever Given vessel was freed last week and is no longer blocking the Suez Canal it remains anchored in the Great Bitter Lake midway along the length of the canal waiting for its ordeal to reach an end.
The 400-metre-long vessel was transiting the Suez Canal when it ran aground. Japanese owned, with a Taiwanese operator, a German management company, and registered in Panama, the vessel is the subject of an ongoing investigation to determine responsibility for the losses incurred as a result of the blockage. Many believe the legal maze could delay the date of the Ever Given’s departure from the Suez Canal, the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.
Hours after the ship was freed on 29 March the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) opened its own investigation. So, too, according to the Washington Post, has the Panama Maritime Authority. Meanwhile, the German management company responsible for hiring the crew is undertaking its own investigation, and the Ever Given’s owner Shoei Kisen Kaisha has filed a limitation of liability action against the ship’s operator, Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine Corp, in the UK High Court, the Lawyer website reported on 1 April.
On the same day, the Japanese owner began action to help ensure the cost of rescuing the vessel is shared.
The legal wrangling over who pays what, is expected to be extensive. According to the leading maritime and offshore website gCaptain, in certain conditions cargo owners are required to contribute to a general fund before cargo can be released.
On 1 April, the president of Taiwanese Evergreen, Ever Given’s charterer, announced that it was not liable for any costs incurred as a result of delayed cargo delivery. Bloomberg quoted Evergreen’s President Eric Hsieh saying at a briefing in Taipei: “There is almost no chance that we will be asked to pay compensation.”
SCA head Osama Rabie, meanwhile, said on Monday that the authority could seek more than $1 billion in compensation, and that its probe of the incident “is near completion”.
Ashraf Belal, the head of Norway-based Det Norske Veritas’ (DNV) office in Egypt, said it is the norm in such incidents that each party conducts an investigation.
“It is unlikely this will lead to different results. Every entity conducting an investigation follows the same investigative model. Each one conducts the investigation by checking and verifying the same factors and circumstances,” Belal told Al-Ahram Weekly.
In TV statements on Monday Rabie said the technical inspection was already finalised and data recorded by the Voyage Data Recorders (VDR) — which serve as the vessel’s black box — had been decoded.
“We have no objection to ending the matter amicably,” Rabie said.
Belal believes it is in the SCA’s interests to end the matted in a friendly way, which may involve any compensation being paid in installments, rather than resorting to international arbitration or the judiciary.
Rabie has also warned that the ship and its $3.5bn worth of cargo will not be allowed to leave the country if the issue goes to court.
Former Minister of International Cooperation Ziad Bahaaeddin wrote in his regular column in Al-Masry Al-Youm that a national committee should be formed at the highest level to assess what happened from the beginning to the end of the incident.
“We need to realise that an incident of this magnitude and this impact on the global economy will not end in smiles, greetings and compliments, but will have major legal and financial repercussions,” he wrote.
There may be compensation between international companies, marine insurers and additional costs and fees which "can create room for international legal disputes that may reach arbitration arenas, and we have to be prepared not to be surprised,” the former minister said.
“I would advise the state to prepare a thorough proactive legal study led by a committee of legal experts.”
Rabie confirmed the SCA “is ready for all possibilities and scenarios”. On Saturday it announced that the logjam of 422 vessels, stranded on both sides of the Suez Canal, had been cleared. Many of the vessels’ owners and operators will themselves be seeking compensation for the days.
Instead of the average 50 vessels that pass daily through the waterway, the SCA has succeeded in letting 80-90 vessels pass each day since the re-floatation of Ever Given in order to clear the backlog.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly