CAIRO – Divers inspected the underside of a colossal container ship that had blocked the Suez Canal, spotting some damage to the bow but not enough to take it out of service, officials said Wednesday.
The dives were part of a continuing investigation into what caused the Ever Given to crash into the bank of the canal where it remained wedged for six days, blocking a crucial artery of global shipping, before it was dislodged on Monday. The vessel is now anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal.
The blockage had halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce.
Two senior canal officials said the vessel's bulbous bow had suffered slight to medium damage. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
One of the officials, a canal pilot, said experts were studying the extent of the damage, but he said it is unlikely it would impede navigation. He said the ship's next movements would depend on “several legal and procedural” measures that the canal authority would discuss with Ever Given’s operator.
When blame gets assigned, it will likely lead to years of litigation to recoup the costs of repairing the ship, fixing the canal and reimbursing those who saw their cargo shipments disrupted. The vessel is owned by a Japanese firm, operated by a Taiwanese shipper, flagged in Panama and now stuck in Egypt, so matters could quickly become complicated.
Since the canal reopened for traffic on Monday afternoon, convoys of ships have been moving through the waterway which links the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
A maritime traffic jam had grown on both ends of the canal during the six days of blockage. From the reopening to noon Wednesday, more than 160 vessels had passed through the canal.
Lt. Gen. Ossama Rabei, head of the canal authority, said Wednesday they would work around the clock to clear the backlog on either end of the canal.
Later, Rabei said in televised comments that the vessel’s captain has yet to respond to demands by the canal authority, which include handing over the Ever Given’s black box and other documents to help the investigation. Such a move was expected as the captain is likely waiting for an attorney to attend the probe, he said.
Ever Given will not be allowed to leave the canal until the end of the investigation, Rabei added.
Dislodging the Ever Given was a moment of triumph for the members of the salvage team. Some broke into tears, many hugged each other as the vessel’s bow was rooted out from the eastern side of the canal.
“We saw it on television, and it is completely different than when you see it in front of you,” said on of the men, Mostafa Mohamed.
The unprecedented canal shutdown had added to the strain on the shipping industry, already under pressure from the pandemic.
The six-day closure would “create a domino effect of delays for goods to be delivered and for the backlog of shipments to be processed through, said Diego Pantoja-Navajas, an expert in supply chain logistics and vice president of WMS Cloud Development, Oracle.
“Over 144 hours lost in the supply chain network,” said Pantoja-Navajas, “will create a domino effect of delays for goods to be delivered and for the backlog of shipments to be processed through.”
Associated Press video journalist Mohammed Wagdy in Ismailia, Egypt, contributed to this report.