CAIRO — The owner and insurers of the enormous container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days in March and disrupted global shipping have reached a settlement with the Egyptian authorities, one of the insurers said Wednesday.
The insurer’s statement did not specify the amount, but said that once the settlement was formalized, the ship — after nearly three months of haggling, finger-pointing and court hearings — would finally complete its journey through the canal.
“Following extensive discussions with the Suez Canal Authority’s negotiating committee over the past few weeks, an agreement in principle between the parties has been reached,” said a statement from the insurer UK P & I Club. “Together with the owner and the ship’s other insurers we are now working with the SCA to finalize a signed settlement agreement as soon as possible.”
A spokesman for the UK Club said it would not be releasing further details. The Suez Canal Authority had not commented on the deal by Wednesday afternoon.
Since the ship was freed in a huge salvage effort in March, about six days after running aground across the Suez, the canal authority had been locked in an often acrimonious standoff with the ship’s owner and operators over what the authority said it was owed for the incident.
The authority had sought up to $1 billion in compensation, a figure that included the cost of tugboats, dredgers and crews hired to salvage the ship as well as the loss of revenue while the canal was blocked. During the delay, some ships U-turned and headed around the tip of Africa rather than wait for Suez traffic to resume, depriving the canal of their fees.
Under the standard terms that shipping companies are required to accept before traversing the Suez Canal, ships are liable for all costs or losses they cause in the canal. Still, the authority never provided a detailed breakdown of how it had arrived at such a large amount.
The sum does not cover the disruption to worldwide shipping, including delayed cargo and costs to other shipping lines, which experts have said could ultimately soar into the hundreds of millions.
Physically, at least, the Ever Given was long ago declared fit to move on. But until compensation is paid, the ship and its crew will remain impounded in the Great Bitter Lake, a natural body of water that connects the section of the canal where the ship was stuck to the next segment, according to Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, the head of the Suez Canal Authority.
An Egyptian court had ordered the ship held until the financial claims were settled, a move that drew protests from the Ever Given’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha.
For more than three months, they faced off in an Egyptian commercial court and in the local press. The Egyptians insisted that the captain — who, under Suez Canal Authority rules, bore ultimate responsibility for commanding the ship despite the presence of Suez pilots who directed steering and speed — was to blame.
Whatever the Ever Given’s objections, the canal, which has a reputation for demanding large liability sums from shipowners, had a strong hand in the negotiations. The canal remains the shortest way to move cargo from Asia to Europe and beyond. As for the ship, it was far too valuable to abandon.
The months of negotiations left the ship’s crew of 25 Indian seafarers stuck in the middle, unable to leave the Ever Given until the bargaining ends, but for a few cases in which the Egyptian authorities granted crew members’ requests to leave after their contracts ended or for family reasons.
After other maritime accidents, crew members have found themselves stranded on impounded vessels for months or even years. In some cases, they have been arrested as local authorities seek someone to blame for an oil spill or messy accident.
In this case, however, the crew appears to have been spared.
“A foreign seafarer is a very easy target,” said Stephen Cotton, the general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents the crew.
In an interview after the ship was impounded, Abdulgani Serang, the general secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India, described the crew, members of which he had spoken to briefly, as tense and feeling the pressure of the investigation.
“Quite justifiably,” he said, “they are stressed.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.