Investigation under way into Suez Canal blockage

Experts seek to investigate what caused the Ever Given’s grounding, which shook the global shipping industry.

The Ever Given is seen after it was fully floated in the Suez Canal [Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]

Experts have boarded the container ship Ever Given, which was dislodged on Monday six days after it got stuck in the Suez Canal, seeking to investigate what caused the grounding that shook the global shipping industry.

The Ever Given was safely anchored on Tuesday in the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal, after salvage teams finally freed the giant vessel on Monday afternoon. The grounding had halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce.

A senior canal pilot, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to journalists, told The Associated Press that experts were looking for signs of damage and trying to determine the cause of the vessel’s grounding.

Engineers were also examining the engines of the Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship hauling goods from Asia to Europe to determine when exactly it can sail to its destination in the Netherlands, he said without elaborating.

Ships stacked with containers could be seen from the city of Suez, sailing in the north-bound stretch of the waterway. Suez Canal service provider Leth Agencies said that more than three dozen vessels that waited for the Ever Given to be freed had already exited the canal into the Red Sea since the waterway was reopened for navigation at 6pm on Monday.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 300 vessels were waiting on both ends of the Suez Canal and in the Great Bitter Lake for permission to continue sailing to their destinations, Leth Agencies said.

More than 100 ships have passed through the Suez Canal in both directions since the Ever Given was dislodged, Egyptian state TV reported later on Tuesday.

‘Four days needed’

Osama Rabei, head of the Suez Canal Authority, told reporters on Monday that maritime traffic could return within four days to its average level before the Ever Given was grounded.

The shipowner, Shoei Kisen, said on Tuesday that it would be part of the investigation along with other parties, though it did not identify them by name.

It also refused to discuss possible causes of the accident, including allegations of high speed and other errors, saying it cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.

The Ever Given became grounded in the Suez Canal on March 23 [Reuters]

The company added that any damage to the ship was believed to be mostly on the bottom. Shoei Kisen said it was not immediately known whether the vessel would be repaired on-site in Egypt or elsewhere, or whether it would eventually head to its initial destination of Rotterdam. Those are decisions to be made by its operator, rather than the shipowner, the company said.

On Monday, a flotilla of tugboats, helped by the tides, wrenched the bulbous bow of Ever Given from the canal’s sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged since March 23. The tugs blared their horns in jubilation as they guided the Ever Given through the water after days of futile attempts that had captivated the world, drawing scrutiny and social media ridicule.

Traffic jam

The Ever Given had crashed into a bank of a single-lane stretch of the canal about 6km (3.7 miles) north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez, creating an enormous traffic jam that held up $9bn a day in global trade and strained supply chains already burdened by the COVID pandemic.

Hundreds of vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, backed up to wait to traverse the canal. Dozens of others took the long, alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip – a 5,000km (3,100-mile) detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

The Ever Given crisis cast a spotlight on the Canal, a vital trade route that carries more than 10 percent of global trade, including 7 percent of the world’s oil. More than 19,000 ships ferrying Chinese-made consumer goods and millions of barrels of oil and liquified natural gas flow through the artery from the Middle East and Asia to Europe and North America.

The unprecedented shutdown, which raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers, has prompted new questions about the shipping industry, an on-demand supplier for a world under pressure from the pandemic.

Source: News Agencies