The Suez Canal Authority has said that it will release ultra-large container ship Ever Given (IMO 9811000) from Great Bitter Lake on the canal if a $200m deposit is paid.
It is normally the case when an accident occurs and liability is disputed that a deposit is made and the vessel is released, pending a resolution either via arbitration or the courts. However, in this instance the amount demanded remains considerably higher than the total liability as estimated by owner Shoei Kisen.
The dramatic reduction in the upfront amount demanded by the SCA – it had previously reduced its demand from $916m to $600m, but no lower, came at the end of a spate of legal arguments and a court ruling that the SCA could continue to detain the 20,388 teu ultra large container vessel, which grounded in the southern section of the canal on March 23rd and subsequently blocked it to all traffic until March 29th.
Shoei Kisen had tried in another court hearing at weekend to get the vessel released, suggesting that the SCA was responsible for the grounding in the first place. Lawyers for Shoei Kisen said the ship should have been accompanied by at least two tug boats suitable for the ship’s size for the transit during stormy conditions. They added that the detention of the ship was illegal. They submitted a $100,000 counter claim in initial compensation for losses from the ship’s protracted stay in Egypt.
Lawyers for Shoei Kisen argued that the Ever Given’s detention was legally flawed and that the work to release the ship was not a salvage operation in the proper legal sense. This meant that the SCA could not seek compensation for such an operation, the lawyers said.
Blaming the SCA was never likely to go down well in an Egyptian Court, and both the SCA and the court dismissed Shoei Kisen’s demands and requests.
However, SCA chairman Osama Rabie subsequently said during a local TV interview that he would be willing to accept a $550m figure, with a $200m deposit paid to secure the ship’s release, and the rest payable separately.
The court on Sunday referred the case back to a court of first instance, which is due to consider it on May 29th, according to Ahmed Abu Ali, one of the lawyers representing the owner. Ahmed Abu Ali told Reuters that the SCA had failed to prove any fault by the ship.
Recordings from the ship that were presented to the court showed disagreements between SCA pilots and its control centre over whether it should enter the canal, Abu Ali said.
Anything that the lower court decides on May 29th is odds-on to trigger an appeal by one side or the other, so the legal dispute looks set to continue.
2018-built, Panama-flagged, 219,079 gt Ever Given is owned by Luster Maritime/Higaki Sangyo care of Shoei Kisen KK of Imabari-shi, Ehime-ken, Japan. It is entered with UK Club on behalf of Luster Maritime SA. It was chartered to Taiwan-based Evergreen.