The Ever Given container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days in March was allowed to sail again on Wednesday after its owners and Egyptian authorities agreed to compensation of about $550 million.
The agreement was signed by legal representatives of the Suez Canal Authority and the vessel's Japanese owners at a ceremony held at the Suez Canal city of Ismailia. It includes a non-disclosure clause.
The 400-metre vessel headed north towards the Mediterranean, where it will make a brief stop at the coastal city of Port Said to undergo a technical inspection before resuming its journey to Rotterdam. It was moored for three months at the Great Bitter Lake, halfway through the waterway, while a compensation battle was fought in an Egyptian court.
The Ever Given was escorted out of the waterway by four tugboats. On board the vessel were two of the canal’s most seasoned pilots, guides who help transiting ships navigate the canal, the authority said.
Admiral Osama Rabie, chairman of the authority, said the settlement was in the region of $550m. Sources close to the authority told The National this week that the agreement was for $540m.
Admiral Rabie declined to disclose the exact amount agreed between the two sides in their out-of-court settlement. Speaking at a news conference, he said the canal authority had already received the "bulk" of the compensation.
The remainder will be received later this month, he said.
The compensation included giving the canal authority a new tug boat, which will be delivered within a year, he said.
"Let us not focus on the sum and instead focus on the monumental effort of our rescue teams," he said.
The operation in March to refloat the Ever Given, which is owned by shipping company Shoei Kisen Kaisha, took six days.
"There will be no further demands by either party going forward," he said.
The authority initially demanded $916m in compensation but that figure was contested by the ship owners as too high.
The authority said the compensation was for physical damage to the canal caused during efforts to refloat the vessel, as well as lost revenue from the hundreds of ships that waited for days at both ends of the canal because of the blockage. Dozens of other ships opted to sail around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa.
Wednesday’s ceremony came a day after an Egyptian court ruled to end the detention of the Panama-registered Ever Given.
Yukito Higaki, president of Shoei Kisen Kaisha, told attendees at the Wednesday ceremony that his company would continue to use the canal and singled out Admiral Rabie for praise.
"I would have very much liked to be in Ismailia today for this ceremony ... but the pandemic has unfortunately prevented me," he said through a satellite link. "On behalf of my company, I would like to place on the record our sincere and genuine gratitude to Admiral Rabie."
The Egyptian admiral also had high praise for the Japanese company.
"The shipping company has been nothing short of honourable throughout the negotiations," he said. "I really want to thank the company and the legal team for their professionalism."
The Ever Given incident took on nationalistic dimensions soon after it began to unfold in late March, with efforts to refloat the vessel praised lavishly as a shining example of resourcefulness and exemplary work ethics.
Pro-government Egyptian commentators saw a silver lining in the disruption the incident caused to global trade, saying it drew attention to the vitality of the canal, which links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, offering the shortest route between Europe on the one hand and the Middle East and Asia on the other.
"The Ever Given epic has been tough but it must be counted as one of the Suez Canal Authority's most important accomplishments," George Safwat, the authority's spokesman said.
"Everyone who works for the Suez Canal will remember today as one of the most important days of the canal's 150-year-old history."