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Divers detect damage to ship that blocked the Suez Canal

Ever Given container ship in Egypt's Great Bitter Lake
The Ever Given container ship, which spent nearly a week wedged in the Suez Canal, is now in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake.
(Mohamed Elshahed / Associated Press)

Divers inspected the underside of a colossal container ship that had blocked the Suez Canal, spotting some damage to the bow but not enough to take it out of service, officials said Wednesday.

The dives were part of a continuing investigation into what caused the Ever Given to crash into the bank of the canal, where it remained wedged for six days, completely blocking a crucial artery of global shipping before it was dislodged Monday. The vessel is now anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal.

The blockage halted maritime commerce worth billions of dollars a day.

Two senior canal officials said the vessel’s bulbous bow had suffered slight to medium damage. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

One of the officials, a canal pilot, said that experts were studying the extent of the damage but that it appeared unlikely to impede navigation. He said the ship’s next movements would depend on “several legal and procedural” measures that the canal authority would discuss with Ever Given’s operator.

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When blame gets assigned, it will probably 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. The vessel is owned by a Japanese firm, operated by a Taiwanese shipper, flagged in Panama and now stuck in Egypt, so matters could quickly become complicated.

The stranded ship in the Suez Canal is the latest incident in the waterway’s dramatic history — one that could cost untold losses in worldwide trade.

Since the canal reopened for traffic Monday afternoon, convoys of ships have been moving through the waterway, which links the Mediterranean and Red seas.

A traffic jam had grown on both ends of the canal during the six days of blockage. From the reopening Monday to noon Wednesday, more than 160 vessels had passed through the canal.

Egyptian Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, head of the canal authority, said Wednesday that he and his team would work around the clock to clear the backlog on either end of the channel.

The unprecedented shutdown added to strain on a shipping industry already under pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The six-day closure of the canal had “a domino effect of delays for goods to be delivered and for the backlog of shipments to be processed through, said Diego Pantoja-Navajas, an expert in supply-chain logistics and a vice president at Oracle.


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