And then, with almost the same suddenness as its stranding, Ever Given moved again towards another part of the canal, the great bitter lake, where it is now docked and awaiting inspection.
Hundreds of ships that had been stuck and waiting could resume their voyages and revive an important artery for global trade as the backup is slowly cleared.
But for the global shipping industry, the saga is not over. While liberating the ship was a colossal effort, it is in some ways difficult as experts reconsider basic assumptions about shipping and world trade.
There are immediate issues under investigation, and thorny issues of responsibility, but concerns in the long run tissue. The canal has long been a geopolitical shock point. But the events of the past week have put new emphasis on the question of whether the channel is too vulnerable in a world of changing weather, terrorism and other new threats.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who visited the Suez Canal Authority in Ismailia on Tuesday, said the event had demonstrated the channel’s “reality and significance”. “We were not hoping for anything like this, but fate did its job,” he said.
Loss and liability
Investigators boarded the Ever given Tuesday in hopes of assessing damage and finding out what went wrong when the ship got stuck.
The earliest suggestions were that the ship, covered by containers that acted as a sail, had been blown off course during a dust storm that day. But Lieutenant General Osama Rabie of the Suez Canal Authority told reporters this weekend that human and technical errors cannot be ruled out.
Some control has fallen on the ship’s two Egyptian canal pilots who came aboard the Ever Given to help guide it through the canal, by default.
Gregory Tylawsky, a curtain with the California-based Maritime Expert Group, said the study would include data from the ship’s voyage data recorder, which might include important details that are not publicly available.
“The maritime industry has a very good track record in its efforts to increase safety and learn from incidents,” Tylawsky said. For example, after the oil spill of Exxon Valdez in 1989, U.S. lawmakers led a global push for safer, double-hulled boats.
Particularly difficult will be the issue of liability. The ship is owned by the Janese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., but is operated by a Taiwanese company, Ever Green Marine Corp.
But the ship sailed under a Panamanian flag, meaning Panama will handle the investigation of its grounding. Alternatively, Egypt could ask to take over the investigation.
Although the pilots were found guilty, Egyptian law makes it clear that the responsibility does not lie with them and that the curtain is responsible for the ship, even when they are on the ship.
Damage to the ship, which still carries approx. 20,000 containers must be taken into account, especially if there are structural problems with the ship caused during its complicated floating operation.
Grounding on the ship disrupted billions of dollars in trade, and analysts have estimated it could take another 10 days to clear the backlog, potentially creating grounds for lawsuits and legal battles.
The incident raises deeper questions about the viability of the current setup of the Suez Canal. About 15 percent of global shipping traffic passes through the waterway each year, according to Moody’s Investors Service, and the canal has been important for trade for over a century.
But as trade has increased and ships have become much larger, the logistics of crossing the canal have become more complicated. A senior canal pilot working for the Suez Canal Authority said this was a real problem and winning affected the course of the larger ships more than less.
“The ships today are bigger than they were,” said the pilot. “This is something new. We have not seen this before. ”
With a length of 1,312 feet, Ever is given the maximum allowable length in the canal. On an estimated 200,000 tons, a shipping company that compares it to a “huge beach whale” when it was squeezed across the waterway.
Egypt renovated the canal just six years ago and spent over $ 8 billion on deepening the main waterway and digging new paths to allow two-way transit in some parts. The high price tag drew a critical response from some in the country who claimed the money could be better spent on public services.
Genevieve Giuliano, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy who has served as an adviser to the U.S. Department of Transportation on freight logistics, said last week that the industry could eventually shift away from the largest ships.
But “ports around the world have spent huge sums to accommodate” these massive ships – for example, digging deeper canals and buying larger cranes – and in the past the shipping market seemed ready to face the risk due to the jubilant costs of these ships.
That could start to change, Giuliano said. “Nobody likes risk because risk is money. What this tells us is that we kind of underestimated the risk of going through the Suez Canal. “
Some shippers may now consider that although the route around the Ce of Good Hope in South Africa – which Suez was built in the 19th century to bypass – may take weeks longer, the lower risk may be worth it.
The wider environment can also change. Russian officials have already taken advantage of the Suez Canal blockade to promote its northern sea route, which has recently become a more likely shipping route due to the effects of global warming.
“The incident in the Suez Canal should make everyone think about diversifying strategic sea routes in the midst of the growing volume of shipping,” said Nikolai Korchunov, Russia’s envoy for international cooperation in the Arctic, on Friday.
“The ever-present incident has highlighted the increased levels of risk and new threats associated with major maritime assets that pass this choke point in world trade today,” Tylawsky said.
After a thorough investigation, the world will expect that “all parties will work to change their operational environments so that this never hpens again,” he added.
Antonia Noori Farzan contributed to this report.