Egypt seeks out-of-court financial settlement with owners of 'Ever Given' ship

The huge cargo ship is currently in one of the Suez Canal’s holding lakes

The Suez Canal chief said on Tuesday that authorities were negotiating a financial settlement with the owners of the huge vessel that blocked the waterway for nearly a week.

Adm Osama Rabie told AP that he hoped talks with Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd, the Japanese owner of the Ever Given, would conclude without a lawsuit.

“We are discussing with them a peaceful resolution to the matter without resorting to the judiciary,” he said.

He said bringing the case before a court would be more harmful to the company than settling with the canal's management.

The canal chief said last week that the Suez Canal Authority was expecting more than $1 billion in compensation. He said the ship would not be allowed to leave the canal if the issue of damages turned into a legal dispute.

That amount takes into account the salvage operation, costs of stalled traffic and lost transit fees for the week that the Ever Given blocked the canal.

He did not specify who would be responsible for paying the compensation.

The massive container ship is currently in one of the canal’s holding lakes, where authorities and the ship’s managers say an investigation is ongoing.

Adm Rabie also said on Tuesday that investigators had analysed data from the voyage data recorder, also known as a vessel's black box, but no conclusion had yet been reached on what led the Ever Given to run aground.

He refused to discuss possible causes, including the ship’s speed and the high winds that buffeted it during a sandstorm, saying he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Initial reports suggested the vessel suffered a lack of power, something denied by the ship's technical manager.

Salvage teams freed the Ever Given, ending a crisis that clogged one of the world's most vital waterways and halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce.

"We've achieved one of the world's biggest salvage operations under difficult and complicated circumstances ... in only six days," Adm Rabie said.

The Panama-flagged ship that carries cargo between Asia and Europe ran aground on March 23 in the narrow, man-made canal dividing continental Africa from the Asian Sinai Peninsula.

Its bow was touching the eastern wall, while its stern lodged against the western wall – an extraordinary event that experts said was unheard of in the canal's 150-year history.

"The case that we had was complicated and non-traditional, so there should have been a non-traditional solution," Adm Rabie said.

He said they relied on dredgers to remove sand from underneath the vessel. Then, a flotilla of tugboats, aided by the tides, wrenched the bulbous bow of Ever Given from the canal's sandy bank, where it had been firmly lodged.

He said it was a difficult decision to use dredgers because it was the first time authorities had used such machines in rescue operations in the canal.

The unprecedented six-day shutdown, which raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers, added to strain on a shipping industry already under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

The canal authority said it cleared a maritime traffic jam that had grown to more than 420 vessels waiting on both ends of the Suez Canal and in the Great Bitter Lake and the canal was back to normal average traffic flow.

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