Photo: Suez Canal Authority

Suez Canal Authority (SCA) chairman Osama Rabie has defended the handling of the Ever Given grounding and revealed there had been a death during the operation to free the ship.

During a visit by Panama’s ambassador to Egypt, along with the director general of the Panamanian Maritime Authority (under which the Ever Given is flagged), Admiral Rabie claimed vessel owner Shoei Kisen “did not show the due recognition deserved, which did not reflect an understanding of the huge losses incurred by the authority due to the incident, that can be seen in the damage to a number of participating marine units and the sinking of one of SCA marine units during the salvage operations, resulting in the death of one of the participants in the salvage operations, as well as the material and moral damages that the reputation of the Suez Canal has sustained by the suspension of navigation traffic”.

He also laid the blame for the subsequent arrest of the vessel at the Japanese firm’s door.

“We relied on the principle of good intentions when dealing with the shipowning company as we responded to their request not to take immediate legal measures, and we waited for 11 days, during which we did not succeed in reaching an agreement commensurate with the losses we incurred, which forced us to resort to the court to legalise the status of the ship.”

He explained that the SCA’s initial claim for $916m – at the time described by vessel insurer the UK P&I Club as “largely unsupportable” – came from its own estimation of the value of the cargo, containers and the ship itself, at $2bn, because the shipowner “did not have an idea of the combined value of the goods”.

He confirmed that the SCA had reduced its claim to $550m, and that a $200m down payment would be sufficient to release the vessel.

Admiral Rabie added that part of the claim was a salvage bonus, as under Egyptian law, “whoever performs any salvage work [has] the right to receive a fair bonus, and the remuneration is determined according to the value of the ship and the value of the goods on board”.

Egyptian law also stipulates that any vessels bear the responsibility of any damage to the canal. The two SCA pilots who were onboard the Ever Given at the time of the grounding were there “in an advisory capacity”, while the master retained ultimate control, he said.

An SCA spokesman added: “The SCA chairman stressed the invalidity of the allegations that the authority is responsible for the occurrence of the incident as a result of allowing the vessel to transit the canal under unfavourable circumstances; a claim that has nothing to do with the truth, as the navigation traffic in the Suez Canal runs normally even during the bad weather, which is what actually happened on the day of the incident”

He added that 12 vessels of a north-bound convoy had transited the canal without incident before the Ever Given.

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