Lt. Gen. Oussama Rabie, head of the Suez Canal Authority, said at a press conference on Thursday the blockage of the Suez Canal by the container ship MV Ever Given imposed a billion dollars in damages on Egypt.
Lawsuits stemming from the incident will probably take years to resolve, as some $50 billion in global trade was disrupted by the six-day blockage.
Rabie said the ship is currently being held in the Bitter Lakes near the canal while the accident is investigated. Cairo political science teacher Said Sadek told Voice of America News that investigation could be very sensitive, both because of the massive lawsuits certain to flow from the accident, and lingering questions about what might be carried aboard the gigantic ship and its thousands of shipping containers:
“If it is not done, big trouble, because in this case, according to international law and Suez Canal law, the goods [on the ship] will be confiscated,” Sadek said. “And so, if there is anything inside, it will be revealed. … If there are children [being trafficked], if there are nuclear bombs, it will be revealed.”
The ship is expected to be detained for two weeks. Sadek said both Egyptian and international investigators were at work on the case.
“Now this ship is under scrutiny, and they will not leave the [lakes region] where they are now being kept until all investigations are done,” he said. “There will have to be agreement [about] who will pay the damages. We’re talking about billions of dollars that will have to be paid.”
One major lawsuit has already been filed: the owners of the Ever Given, two Japan-based companies called Luster Maritime and Higaki Sangyo Kaisha, are suing the company that operates the ship, Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine Corp, at the High Court in London.
The Suez Canal Authority has prohibited the Ever Given from leaving the Suez Canal area until a full investigation of the incident is completed. Satellite photos on Friday showed the ship anchored near the east side of the Great Bitter Lake awaiting a hull inspection. Evergreen optimistically stated the ship could “resume its scheduled service” once the hull inspection is complete.
The same set of satellite photos showed heavy traffic once again moving steadily through the Suez Canal. Well over 400 ships were backed up outside the canal during the blockage, and the canal generally handles about 50 ships per day, so it will take some time for the backlog to clear up completely.
Lt. Gen. Rabei said at his press conference that the captain of the Ever Given has not yet provided requested documents or the ship’s black box. Egyptian media sources reported on Thursday the ship has been involved in two previous accidents, but no details were provided. Egyptian legal experts said the ship could be confiscated by the Egyptian government if the captain and crew do not cooperate fully with the investigation.
The current status of the Ever Given’s 25-man Indian crew is uncertain. Two Egyptian canal pilots who were aboard the ship could be part of the investigation as well. Indian government and shipping industry officials fear the crew could be arrested and “made scapegoats” for the incident.