Schuyler Troy, MJLST Staffer
The Ever Given, a massive four-hundred-meter-long cargo ship weighing over two hundred thousand tons and carrying over eighteen thousand cargo containers, ran aground in the Suez Canal on March 23, 2021. Wedged between the edges of the canal, the ship blocked all transport through the canal for just over six days. Trade routes were brought to a screeching halt as a backlog of hundreds of ships were left stranded in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake waiting for passage through the canal, which serves as a conduit for about thirty percent of daily global shipping container volumes, including roughly one million barrels of oil a day. After days of round-the-clock work, the Ever Given was finally pried loose on March 29, allowing traffic to flow again through the canal. The precise cost of the trade stoppage is still unclear, but data from Lloyd’s List showed that the ship held up an estimated $9.6 billion in trade each day that it was stuck—roughly $400 million per hour. The canal itself generated $5.6 billion for Egypt in 2020.
What exactly caused the Ever Given to run aground is currently under investigation. According to an article from Business Insider, initial theories suggested that sudden strong winds caused the hull to deviate from its course and hit the bottom of the canal. Human error is also suspected to have played a part in the fiasco, with reports that the ship was traveling faster than the canal’s speed limit and that its crew opted not to utilize a tugboat escort through the canal. Investigators are also likely to scrutinize the performance of the Ever Given’s two Egyptian canal pilots, both senior chief pilots with more than thirty years of experience.
With so much money on the line, attention will surely turn to who will be left liable for the losses, and the complex structure of ownership and operation of the Ever Given has revealed a tangled web of potentially liable parties. The ship is owned by Shoei Kisen Kaisha, a Japanese subsidiary of Imabari Shipbuilding. At the time it ran aground in the Suez Canal, it was chartered and operated by Evergreen Marine, a Taiwanese container line. The Ever Given is registered in Panama, and is technically managed by the German ship management company Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement. The crew was comprised of twenty-five Indian citizens, and the ship was insured in part by the UK P&I Club, a United Kingdom based insurance group.
Aggrieved parties are likely to raise claims arising not only from delays in shipment of the goods aboard the Ever Given, but also from cargoes on other ships that were delayed due to inability to transit the canal and from ships which diverted their course around the Cape of Good Hope, a longer and costlier route. There could also be claims for damage to the canal itself, as diggers were required to remove earth and rock from the canal’s banks around the areas where the ship ran aground.