The massive cargo ship that had blocked Egypt's Suez Canal bringing global trade to a near-standstill for almost a week may have been the result of human or technical failure, the head of the Suez Canal Authority said over the weekend.
The ship finally moved early Sunday morning after a week-long operation to get it to budge from where it had come aground.
Early reports had indicated that high winds and a sandstorm blocking visibility had caused the giant 200,000 ton Ever Given to be stuck in one of the world's most vital shipping canals. However, this seems to not have been the case.
Canal Authority chairman Osama Rabie told reporters on Saturday that “There may have been technical or human errors,” not providing more details other than the fact that “All of these factors will become apparent in the investigation,” the BBC reported.
The fact that human error may have been the cause for the disaster might contradict earlier reports, but many individuals within the shipping industry are unsurprised. As noted in 2017 by Maritime Journal, human error accounts for anywhere between 75% and 96% of maritime accidents.
According to British journalist and author Rose George, many crews are smaller and on larger ships, causing them to be exhausted with busy schedules less time to relax. As a result, ships are working with over-exhausted crews.
Another factor to consider is that the Ever Given's crew wasn't actually in control of the ship at the time, but rather the Suez pilots were.
The Suez Canal, like other canals, requires many ships to have a small "Suez crew" that board the ship, with their own pilot taking the helm. As George noted in an op-ed in the UK daily The Guardian, this is standard practice in modern shipping, with vessels taking local pilots in difficult areas as they have local knowledge.Notably, however, it is the ship's original master that holds all responsibility if something goes wrong. As noted by Suez Canal Authority documents posted online by the company Seaways Marine and reported on by the Canadian newspaper National Post, “Masters are held solely responsible for all damage or accidents of whatever kind resulting from the navigation or handling of their vessels directly or indirectly by day or night.” This is because the canal pilots “cannot know the defects or difficulties of maneuverability for every vessel.”
Indeed, the Ever Given had two such canal pilots on board.
While these pilots are well trained – and this training has been described by the Finnish marine company Wartsila, which provides the Suez Canal Authority with training simulators for their pilots – not everyone has had the most positive experience with these pilots. Notably, George recounted one such experience with a Suez pilot, writing in The Guardian that "the pilot we had was too busy eating his way through the entire menu, and dozing, to be particularly commanding."
However, the identity of the pilots on board the Ever Given remain unknown, and the company behind the ship, Japanese firm Shoei Kisen Kaisha, has apologized for the blockage.
The massive cargo ship is one of the largest in the world, and contains some 18,300 containers of various cargo. Her blockage of the Suez Canal when she ran aground last Tuesday has caused severe damage to global trade, with some estimating the damage to be as much as $400 million an hour, with at least 369 ships waiting to cross the canal.
Various efforts have been made to move her, with tugboats working to shift her and dredgers shifting sand to make the water less shallow. However, the ship remains stuck in place, barring a slight movement over the weekend. A possible cause for this may be a mass of rock at the bow of the ship, but it remains unclear how difficult this would be to overcome.
The slight movement was considered a cause for celebration, however, and many tugboats were shown honking horns in celebration in a video released over social media.
Reuters contributed to this report.