Experts examine bottom of ship that was stuck in Suez

CAIRO — Divers inspected the underside of a colossal container ship that had blocked the Suez Canal, spotting some damage to the bow but not severe enough to ground the vessel, officials said Wednesday.

The dives were part of a continuing investigation into what caused the Ever Given to crash into the bank of the canal where it remained wedged for six days, blocking a crucial artery of global shipping, before it was dislodged on Monday. The vessel is now anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal.

The blockage had halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce.

Two senior canal officials said the vessel’s bulbous bow had suffered slight to medium damage. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

One of the officials, a canal pilot, said experts were studying the extent of the damage, but he said it is unlikely it would impede navigation. He said the ship’s next movements would depend on “several legal and procedural” measures that the canal authority would discuss with Ever Given’s operator.

When blame gets assigned, it will likely lead to years of litigation to recoup the costs of repairing the ship, fixing the canal and reimbursing those who saw their cargo shipments disrupted. The vessel is owned by a Japanese firm, operated by a Taiwanese shipper, flagged in Panama and now stuck in Egypt, so matters could quickly become complicated.

Since the canal reopened for traffic on Monday afternoon, convoys of ships have been moving through the waterway which links the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

A maritime traffic jam had grown on both ends of the canal during the six days of blockage. From the reopening to noon Wednesday, more than 160 vessels had passed through the canal.

Lt. Gen. Ossama Rabei, head of the canal authority, said Wednesday they would work around the clock to clear the backlog on either end of the canal.

The unprecedented shutdown added to strain on the shipping industry already under pressure from the pandemic.

The six-day closure of the canal would “create a domino effect of delays for goods to be delivered and for the backlog of shipments to be processed through, said Diego Pantoja-Navajas, an expert in supply chain logistics and vice-president of WMS Cloud Development, Oracle.

“Over 144 hours lost in the supply chain network,” said Pantoja-Navajas, “will create a domino effect of delays for goods to be delivered and for the backlog of shipments to be processed through.”