Egypt Mulls Criminal Charges Against Crew of Ship that Blocked Suez Canal

Suez Canal Authority via AP
Suez Canal Authority via AP

The Indian crew of the container ship Ever Given — which blocked billions of dollars in trade from passing through the Suez Canal for nearly a week — may face “criminal charges” and “house arrest” after Egyptian officials launched a probe Wednesday into how the ship became lodged in the channel.

“Both the Indian government and the seafarers’ organizations are concerned about the legal issues that the crew may face, including the possibility of criminal charges,” the Times of India reported on March 30.

“[O]ne of the possibilities is that the captain and some of the crew may be restrained from traveling further,” the Times added, citing “sources in the shipping industry.”

“They could be placed under house arrest until [the] investigation is completed into the cause of the accident,” the newspaper wrote.

“There is a clear danger that the crew will be made scapegoats,” a shipping industry source told the Times.

An international team working on land and sea freed the Ever Given from the Suez Canal on March 29 after it became wedged inside the waterway on March 23. The blockage effectively shut down the Suez Canal for six consecutive days, preventing hundreds of freight shipments from passing through the channel and costing billions of dollars in trade losses.

Initial reports by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) indicated the Ever Given ran aground on one of the canal’s banks due to “high winds and a sand storm that reduced visibility and rendered the ship unable to keep a straight course through the channel.”

SCA Chairman Osama Rabie told reporters on March 27 that adverse weather conditions were “not the main reasons” for the ship’s grounding, however, indicating that the Ever Given‘s crew may have been responsible for the ship’s grounding.

“There may have been technical or human errors,” he said at a press conference, without elaborating. “All of these factors will become apparent in the investigation.”

The SCA is an Egyptian state-owned authority that operates and maintains the Suez Canal. The channel links the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and serves as the shortest sea link between Europe and Asia. About 12 percent of global trade passes through the waterway. Rabie said elsewhere at the March 27 press briefing that he estimated Egypt’s losses from the canal blockage at $12–14 million per day. Data from the online shipping journal Lloyd’s List indicated Ever Given‘s blockage held up an estimated $9.6 billion in goods each day, or about $400 million per hour.

The Ever Given is owned by Japanese national Shoei Kisen and operated by the Taiwanese firm Evergreen Marine. The ship’s crew comprises 25 Indian nationals. The National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) expressed solidarity with the vessel’s Indian crew on March 27.

“The NUSI has promised solidarity with all Indian seafarers on board ‘Ever Given’. I got in touch with them. The seafarers are fine but stressed. They are not alone and we will support them whenever required,” NUSI general secretary Abdulgani Serang wrote in a statement posted to Twitter.

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