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Giant cargo ship that blocked Suez Canal impounded amid financial dispute

Cargo ship Ever Given
The cargo ship Ever Given, which got stuck in the Suez Canal for several days last month, in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake on March 30. The ship is operated by the Taiwanese company Evergreen Marine.
(Mohamed Elshahed / Associated Press)

Amid a financial dispute with its owner, Egyptian authorities have impounded a massive cargo ship that blocked the Suez Canal and gummed up trade through the vital waterway for days.

Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie of the Suez Canal Authority said the hulking Ever Given would not be allowed to leave the country until compensation is settled on with the vessel’s Japanese owner, the company Shoei Kisen Kaishad.

“The vessel is now officially impounded,” Rabie told Egypt’s state-run television late Monday. “They do not want to pay anything.”

There was no immediate comment from the vessel’s owner.

Rabie did not say how much money the canal authority was seeking. However, a judicial official said it demanded at least $900 million. The state-run Ahram daily also reported the $900-million figure.

That amount takes into account the salvage operation, costs of stalled canal traffic and lost transit fees for the week that the Ever Given blocked the canal.

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With challenges mounting at home and abroad, Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah Sisi tries to capitalize on the freeing of the ship stuck in the Suez Canal.

The official said the order to impound the vessel was issued Monday by a court in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, and that the vessel’s crew was informed Tuesday.

He said prosecutors in Ismailia also opened a separate investigation into what led the Ever Given to run aground. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

Rabie said negotiations were still ongoing to reach a settlement on compensation.

He warned last week that bringing the case before a court would be more harmful to the vessel’s owner than settling with the canal’s management. Litigation could be complex, since the vessel is owned by a Japanese firm, operated by a Taiwanese shipper and flagged in Panama.

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.

The Ever Given, which carries some $3.5 billion in cargo between Asia and Europe, ran aground March 23 in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Asian Sinai Peninsula.

The vessel had crashed into the bank of a single-lane stretch of the canal a few miles north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.

On March 29, salvage teams freed the ship, ending a crisis that had halted billions of dollars’ worth of trade a day. The vessel has since idled in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, just north of the site where it previously blocked the canal.

The unprecedented six-day shutdown, which raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers, added to strain on a shipping industry already under pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rabie, the canal chief, told state-run television there was no wrongdoing by the canal authority. He declined to discuss possible causes for the grounding, such as the ship’s speed and the high winds that buffeted it during a sandstorm.

When asked whether the ship’s owner was at fault, he said: “Of course, yes.”

Rabie said the conclusion of the authority’s investigation was expected Thursday.


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