'Ever Given': Suez Canal Authority says it was not responsible for grounding

Authority said the incident underlined the global importance of the trade route

A picture released by Egypt's Suez Canal Authority on March 29, 2021, shows a tugboat pulling the Panama-flagged MV 'Ever Given' container ship after it was fully dislodged from the banks of the Suez. The ship was refloated and the Suez Canal reopened, sparking relief almost a week after the huge container ship got stuck and blocked a major artery for global trade. Salvage crews have been working around the clock ever since the accident which has been blamed on high winds and poor visibility during a sandstorm. / AFP / SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY / - / == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SUEZ CANAL AUTHORITY" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==

The chairman of the Suez Canal Authority said the waterway's management was not to blame for the ultra-large container ship Ever Given running aground in the canal, blocking traffic for six days.

The 200,000-tonne, Panama-flagged vessel was successfully refloated on Monday, ending the blockage that disrupted global trade and impacted markets.

The vessel ran aground on March 23 at a narrow stretch of the waterway just north of the city of Suez.

After refloating it, the Ever Given was taken to the Great Bitter Lake halfway through the 193-kilometre canal to be inspected for damage.

“The Suez Canal is not to blame for the incident,” Adm Osama Rabie, the canal authority’s chairman, told a news conference late on Monday night.

“We are the affected party,” he added, saying the canal suffered $12-15 million in lost revenues each day of the blockage.

The authority has earlier said that strong wind during a sandstorm had blown the vessel off course.

On Saturday, Adm Rabie said he could not rule out human error or technical fault, but refused to draw conclusions, saying a thorough investigation will reveal the guilty parties.

In an apparent attempt to deflect possible blame from the two canal authority pilots who were onboard the Ever Given at the time it ran aground, he said the pair were among the most experienced pilots that were available.

“The accident showed the world the importance of the Suez Canal after some people spoke about alternative routes," he said.

"The Suez Canal remains the shortest and safest waterway and the one that offers the best services in the world.”

That sentiment was echoed by President Abdel Fatah El Sisi on Tuesday, when he met with Adm Rabie and canal employees to thank them for what he described as a “spectacular show of massive resources and capabilities.”

‘There is a silver lining in what happened. It alerted people to the large and important role played by the canal … This is an international facility for global commerce that has been enshrined in the consciousness of world trade for 150 or 160 years.” The canal was inaugurated in 1869.

By Monday afternoon, 422 vessels were stuck in the canal or anchored in open sea near the waterway’s Mediterranean and Red Sea entrances waiting to sail through. On Tuesday, Adm Rabie said traffic resumed at the canal at 6 PM on Monday, 15 minutes after the Ever Given arrived at the Great Bitter Lake.

Since then, he said, 113 vessels transited the canal and 140 more, more than double the normal daily traffic in the waterway, were expected to follow suit on Tuesday.

That figure, said Adm Rabie, testified to the popularity of the canal. He said the alternative route between Asia and Europe around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope was 10,000 miles longer, takes two more weeks to complete when compared with the use of the canal. "It is not safe either," he said.

Adm Rabie said the salvage operation was the first of its kind in the world; to refloat a vessel of Ever Given's size without offloading its cargo.

Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority, attends a news conference in Ismailia, Egypt March 29, 2021. REUTERS/Hanaa Habib

The 400-metre vessel has a cargo of nearly 20,000 containers.

Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats managed to wrench the bulbous bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the canal's sandy bank, where it had been lodged since March 23.

The results of the inspection of the Ever Given at the Great Bitter Lake will determine whether the ship can resume its scheduled service. Once it is complete, a decision and arrangements will be made about the cargo on board.

The first vessels to sail through the waterway after the canal reopened for traffic at 6pm on Monday were YM Wish, Maersk Emeraldas and Ever Globe.

The planned number of vessels to sail through the canal per day has yet to be set by the Suez Canal Authority but maritime expert Ranjith Raja, head of Mena Oil and Shipping Research data company Refinitiv, said 90 to 100 ships a day was possible.

That would be roughly double the usual daily average of about 50.

Refinitiv estimated it could take more than 10 days to clear the backlog of ships.

Seventeen tugboats and support vessels were involved in the last big effort to move the ship on Monday afternoon.

Video shared online early on Monday purported to show the moments after the boat was refloated, with Suez Canal authority personnel heard rejoicing and shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great).

The tugs included the Dutch-registered Alp Guard and the Italian-registered Carlo Magno, according to Leth Agencies. The two vessels arrived at the canal over the past 24 hours.