ISMAILIA, Egypt – 31 May 2021: ISMAILIA, Egypt – 31 May 2021: Egypt revealed the reasons for the grounding of the Panama-flagged MV EVER GIVEN ship, saying that the whole accident is the shipmaster’s fault.
In a press conference held on Sunday in Ismailia by the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) to give further details about the negotiations with the owners of the stranded ship over the required compensation, Head of the SCA Investigation committee El-Sayed Sheisha revealed that the Ever Given's captain was going at such a high speed that resulted in the grounding of the ship.
“When the ship entered the canal course at the southern entrance, it moved toward the right [near the eastern bank of the canal]. Then, the captain tried to bring it to the middle of the canal via high speed with a wide angle of rotation, but the ship was pushed towards the north,” said Sheisha.
“Afterwards, the captain increased the speed again to move the ship from the north, but it went to the right and ran aground on the eastern bank of the canal. We also have to put into consideration that the ship is huge and responds slowly due to its giant size,” Sheisha added.
The MV EVER GIVEN went aground on March 23, 2021, in the 151st km of the Suez Canal, where vessels pass in both directions, causing the suspension of the international maritime navigation through the canal for six days. After it was freed on March 29, the ship was escorted to the Bitter Lakes for technical inspection, crew interrogation, and black box analysis.
“The captain requested many things at once [during the accident]. He asked for eight demands in 12 minutes,” Sheisha said, noting that the captain had to reduce the speed instead of increasing it but he was confused in this situation.
Sheisha said that the ship had earlier sailed through the canal heading to Asia, and that the accident took place during the return journey, voyaging in a more difficult direction than the northern entrance.
"The speed was 11.2 meters per second at a rate of 22 knots," sheisha said, explaining that two high speeds of 43 knots per hour and 40 knots per hour were recorded on the black box. “The vessel’s forecastle is not clear due to a large number of containers on it.”
“Ship’s response was weak. This is confirmed by the captain,” he continued.
Meanwhile, head of SCA Navigation Control Unit Mohamed El-Sayed ruled out the bad weather had a role in the accident, clarifying that 12 vessels had already passed through the canal in the same convoy before the accident.
The SCA negotiating committee comprises Egyptian lawyer Khaled Abu Bakr, who was recently hired by the authority as an advisor to the SCA chairperson Admiral Osama Rabie for the case of the stranded vessel. The committee members also include the SCA lawyer Nabil Zidan, Head of the SCA Investigation committee El-Sayed Sheisha, and Head of SCA Navigation Control Unit Mohamed El-Sayed.
The legal team affirmed that nothing in the black box works against the SCA pilots, saying their opinion is not obligatory and the pilot did not follow their warning.
In response to media remarks given by the owners’ lawyer about blaming the Suez Canal Authority’s pilots for the accident, claiming they did not prevent the ship from entering the canal course in the bad weather, Zidan said that the navigation course was normal on the day of the accident despite the bad weather, adding that before the accident 12 vessels had already sailed safely through the course, and stressing that the ship captain did not ask not to enter the south canal.
During the conference, the negotiators said that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) asked to be updated on the results of the investigations and to be provided with a brief about the accident. The SCA had already sent the required data, affirming that the owners, the shipmaster, and Panama have copies of the aforementioned data.
In response to a question by Egypt Today on the possibility that the two sides would resort to international arbitration, Sheisha ruled out such step as long as the ship owes the SCA compensation value, adding that any ship that has to pay debts shall be subjected to the authority of the country until paying the compensation.
What are the latest developments on legal procedures and compensation talks?
The Ismailia Economic Court of First Instance on Saturday adjourned a hearing for upholding the arrest of the ship to June 20, 2021, upon requests from the lawyers of the two parties, to allow further settlement discussions to take place.
Egypt has asked for $916 million in compensation for damages caused by the grounding of the ship, the salvage operation, and for loss of reputation. The situation complicated when an economic court in Ismailia governorate issued on April 13, 2021, a decision to officially arrest the ship until paying compensation.
Zidan clarified that there are two legal cases regarding the decision of the arrest of the ship. "The first lawsuit filed by the Suez Canal Authority to judicially uphold the seizure decision," he said, noting that the Ismailia Economic Court recused itself from considering this case on May 23 and referred it to the Ismailia Court of the First Instance, which adjourned the case to June 20.
"Meanwhile, the second lawsuit filed by the shipowner Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha was a grievance against the decision of putting the ship under arrest until paying the required compensation," he added. The court rejected the grievance.
Commenting on the adjournment of the first case, the Insurance club UKP&I said on May 29, 2021 that "the owners of the Ever Given and their insurers have been committed to an amicable and fair resolution of this matter and remain so. We look forward to further discussions and bringing this matter to a close as soon as is practicable."
In parallel, the SCA and the shipowners are resuming their negotiations about the required compensation. In the beginning, Egypt estimated the compensation value at $916 million, which has been reduced to $600 million. However, SCA Chairperson Admiral Osama Rabie stated previously in a phone-in that the Japanese Company wants to reduce the compensation sum from $600 million to $150 million.
In his meeting with Panamanian Ambassador to Egypt Alejandro Gante and Director General of the Panamanian Maritime Authority Rafael Cigarruista on May 25, Admiral Rabie said that the authority has provided facilities, revealing that “the value of the compensation requested by the authority is about $550 million, provided that $200 million shall be paid in advance, while the remaining $350 million are paid as letters of guarantee issued by an "A class" bank in Egypt.”
Why was the value of compensation claims sharply reduced?
“We had asked the owners to provide us with the financial value of the cargos on board, but they did not respond to this request, so at that time, the Egyptian side put the maximum limit of the compensation,” said Abu Bakar, adding “When the company officially notified the SCA of the new data on the cargos’ value, the compensation claim was reduced."
Abu Bakar clarified that the value of the cargos was initially estimated at $3 billion by the SCA, but the owners said that the value is estimated at $750 million, so as a result, the compensation sum was cut.
“The authority gave a 10-day period to the owners to reach an agreement on the claims [at the beginning]. But after ten days, the SCA resorted to the order of the precautionary arrest of the ship.
When asked whether the operation of rescue is classified as “Salvage operation" or “refloating operation,” SCA lawyer Nabil Zidan said that Suez Canal Authority carried out a Salvage Operation not a refloating operation and as a result, the authority that had carried out the salvage operation has the right to be granted a financial award estimated by court.
“According to the Maritime Rescue Law of 1990, in case [of the salvage operation], the rescuing party has the right to be given a fair reward after salvaging the ship. Such award shall be stated by the [concerned] court,” he said.
Several days ago, the admiral revealed that the ship caused damages to a number of participating marine units and the operation resulted in the sinking of one of the SCA tugging boats and the death of an employee. This is in addition to the material and moral damages that the Suez Canal has sustained by the suspension of navigation traffic.
How did a worker pass away during ship accident?
“During the evacuation of equipment from the site after the completion of the floatation process, we were informed that a marine boat with an individual on board was sinking, then the rescue teams were actually pushed and got the worker out, but he died in the hospital later,” said the SCA spokesperson George Safwat.
"The boat sank in the canal due to a wrong maneuver or the tidal movements that are common at the southern entrance of the Suez Canal, besides the high speed of the wind," Safwat added.
In a response to a question on the reason that the death of the worker was not disclosed earlier, Abu Bakr said that the worker did not work for the Suez Canal Authority, but for a company working for the Suez Canal Authority during the rescue operation, adding “We were faced with a moral challenge as to who should announce the death of the worker, the company, the authority or the family. If the deceased was working for the authority, we would have made the decision to announce his death in an instant.”
Are there dangerous goods on board the ship?
Two day ago, a lawyer representing the Egyptian Cooperative Society for Fishing said during a court session on May 29, 2021, that the ship carries nuclear and dangerous materials, which threaten the navigation movement in the canal.
However, Head of the SCA Investigation committee El-Sayed Sheisha revealed that the ship carries 348 containers of 11 types of chemical materials, besides oxidizing agents, denying the presence of any nuclear or radioactive substances. He added that such cargos exist in the ship’s hull, not on the sides of the ship as they should be.
At the conference, Head of the SCA Navigation Control Unit Mohamed El-Sayed denied such reports, saying that the ship carries no dangerous goods, but it carries chemical materials, saying “Any vessel carrying dangerous cargoes, especially Class 1 and Class 7, must have a permit from the Egyptian Nuclear Energy Authority to sail through the Suez Canal and Egypt’s territorial water,” Sayed said.
In a statement issued by the authority on May 29, 2021, the SCA said that the ship-owning company did not report the presence of dangerous flammable goods within the cargo on board, "which would have had catastrophic consequences had the authority not dealt with it in an appropriate manner.”
"The navigation through the Suez Canal will remain the safest and the cheapest maritime route in the world even if the insurance rates double” Sheisha.