Date: Friday, June 25th, 2021
Bickering Egyptian pilots have been blamed for this year’s most high profile shipping casualty.
As preparations get underway to get the giant 20,388 teu Ever Given moving again, three months after its dramatic grounding in the Suez Canal, reports have emerged of what happened on the fateful day of its stormy transit through the key waterway linking Europe with Asia.
Bloomberg Businessweek reporters have been in court listening to the proceedings between the Suez Canal Authority and the Japanese owner of the Ever Given. Yesterday the magazine published an in-depth, 6,000 word article looking at how the Shoei Kisen-owned ship become lodged across the canal for six days in March.
Based on testimonies from multiple court hearings in Egypt, the two pilots from the Suez Canal Authority onboard the Ever Given do not come out of the article at all well.
Splash reported on Wednesday that an agreement in principle has been reached over a compensation claim between the SCA and Shoei Kisen. No dollar figure has been made public, nor an official timeframe for the ship’s departure. The Wall Street Journal suggested the preliminary deal calls for about $200m in compensation, while in a televised interview on Thursday night, SCA chairman Osama Rabie said he believed an agreement could be reached within 15 days.
“It may take some further time for the agreement to be concluded, for the vessel to be released from arrest and prepared for onward transit,” ship operator Evergreen Line said in a statement.
The ship was arrested on April 13 and has remained at anchor on the Great Bitter Lake ever since.
Claims adjuster WK Webster suggested in an update this week: “We can expect that the final settlement agreement will be concluded shortly which should then permit the vessel to continue upon its intended voyage and finally allow Cargo Interests to take delivery of their long-awaited cargoes. It is anticipated that once the vessel departs the Great Bitter Lake, the sailing time to Rotterdam, the next scheduled port of call, will be 9/10 days.”
While the SCA has been at pains to lay the blame on the ship and its crew, yesterday’s Businessweek article paints a very different picture of the moments leading up to its grounding.
The ship entered the canal in stormy conditions, with strong winds. A seafarer who was on a ship further ahead in the convoy told Splash that he experienced gusts of wind that day of up to 50 knots. The master of an LNG carrier the day prior had taken the decision to delay transiting, fearful of the inclement conditions.
A few kilometres into Ever Given’s transit, placed 13th in the 20-ship convoy, the 400 m long ship veered from port to starboard and back again. In response, according to court documents seen by Businessweek, the lead SCA pilot instructed the helmsman to steer hard right, then hard left.
“The Ever Given‘s vast hull took so long to respond that by the time it began to move, he needed to correct course again. When the second pilot objected, the two argued,” the article states.
The lead pilot then gave a new order: “Full ahead.” The ship sped up to 13 knots, five knots faster than the canal’s recommended speed limit. The two pilots continued to argue, with the lead pilot even threatening to leave the ship.
The increase in power created unforeseen problems in the shape of what is known as Bernoulli’s principle, whereby a fluid’s pressure goes down when its speed goes up. The ship’s prow ended up lodged on the right bank of the canal, thrusting shipping into the mainstream media for the following week.
As the two SCA pilots readied to leave the ship in the wake of the accident, the pilots were heard to still be arguing between themselves.
“These vessels are not supposed to enter,” the lead pilot said.
“Why did you let it enter?” his colleague responded.
The lawyer representing the ship’s owner submitted recordings from the Ever Given‘s voyage data recorder into evidence.
The SCA, for its part, continues to deny its pilots were to blame for the accident.