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Egypt seizes the Ever Given, saying its owners owe nearly $1 billion for Suez Canal traffic jam

Container ship Ever Given was stuck in the Suez Canal from March 23-29, causing disruptions to global shipping that experts said could take months to resolve. (Video: Reuters)
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A few weeks ago, Egypt was frantically trying to get the massive container ship Ever Given out of the Suez Canal.

Now, authorities are saying the vessel is not allowed to leave.

In the latest complication to the ill-fated voyage, Egypt has seized the Ever Given over its owners’ “failure to pay an amount of $900 million,” the state-run news outlet Ahram Gate reported. That amount represents the total compensation that Egypt says it is owed for the six-day blockage of the Suez Canal, including lost revenue from ships that ordinarily would have traveled through the canal during that time, as well as costs for damage to the crucial waterway and the equipment and labor deployed in the 144-hour scramble to free the ship.

Since it was dislodged from the narrow section of the canal where it ran aground in late March, blocking commerce worth billions of dollars, the Ever Given has been anchored in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, at the midpoint of the canal. Twenty-five crew members, all Indian nationals, remain stuck on board.

The ruling allowing Egypt to seize the Ever Given was issued by a court in Ismailia, a city on the west bank of the canal, according to the Ahram Gate website. The Suez Canal Authority, which made the request, noted that Egypt’s maritime trade laws allow the “precautionary seizure” of vessels that have outstanding debts, including failure to pay the costs from an accident.

“The vessel will remain here until investigations are complete and compensation is paid,” Osama Rabie, chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), told Egyptian state television last week, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The minute they agree to compensation, the vessel will be allowed to move.”

But the National Union of Seafarers in India argues that refusing to let the crew off the ship amounts to holding them for ransom. “If the SCA has suffered losses, they can sort it out with those involved with the ship,” Abdulgani Serang, the union’s general secretary, told the Times of India on Sunday.

The Ever Given is owned by Shoei Kisen Kaisha, a Japanese holding company, but leased by Evergreen Marine Corp., a Taiwan-based conglomerate. Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, a German firm, was responsible for hiring the crew.

Egypt has not said which company it expects to pay for the damage, but Shoei Kisen Kaisha told the Journal last week that it was “in the middle of negotiations” with Suez authorities. The company has filed a lawsuit in British court aimed at limiting its liability for the incident.

Investigations of how the Ever Given became lodged sideways in the canal are continuing. In a recent interview, Rabie suggested the captain could have “made a mistake” with the ship’s steering or speed, according to Kyodo News. He emphasized that the two Suez Canal pilots who were on board to offer guidance were not ultimately responsible for making decisions and dismissed the idea that strong winds had pushed the ship off course.

Rabie did not cite any evidence or say how he arrived at that conclusion.