The 400-metre-long container ship will be seen off on Wednesday in a ceremony attended by dignitaries, diplomats and company officials from around the world. In fact, the last time the Suez Canal Authority, which is hosting the event, promised this much fanfare was in 2015, when an $8 billion expansion project was completed within a year. The ship is slated to sail into the Mediterranean and then to Rotterdam.
This time though, the event will be as much about closure as celebration. Because it was the Ever Given, the giant Japanese-owned vessel carrying some $1 billion worth of cargo, that last March lost control as it traveled north through the canal, crashing into the banks and blocking the waterway like a giant cork for nearly a week. It was an incident that roiled global markets and transfixed the world.
The ceremony will be marked by the signing of a settlement deal between the canal authority and vessel owners Shoei Kisen Kaisha, capping what turned into a public relations crisis for the overseers of the waterway and, by extension, Egypt itself.
Freeing the ship just six days after the incident last March may have won the authority some kudos, as well as providing relief for the estimated $10 billion worth of marine traffic that built up each day as a result. What happened next, in terms of determining blame and compensation, carried an equally high premium for Egypt, both domestically and abroad.
“We have preserved our full rights regarding the costs of the rescue operation and the damages caused to the navigation course,” Osama Rabie, the authority chief, said on Egyptian TV on June 23. “We also preserved the close relationship with the largest clients of the authority and the economic and political relations with Japan.”
With the eyes of the world upon them, canal employees, along with outside help, worked around the clock to free the Ever Given. Often risking their lives, workers ensured that there was minimal damage to the ship, its 17,600 containers and the canal itself. In the end, the heavens offered a helping hand when unusually high tides allowed teams to refloat the vessel.
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