The Ever Given is still stuck

The giant cargo ship that blocked the Suez canal in March is no longer holding up billions of dollars in world trade, but it’s still stuck…in legal limbo. It’s currently docked, unmoving, it’s $700 million in containers on deck, while lawyers are battling to fix the blame. And get the billion dollar salvage fee.

The vessel is stuck once more – this time by an almighty international legal row. By mid-April, it had been impounded, with the Suez Canal Authority, or SCA, slapping a claim against its owners in an Egyptian court. The salvage fee? Nearly $1bn. “I’ve seen cases like this but on a much smaller scale,” explains maritime solicitor Jai Sharma of law firm Clyde & Co, which represents the insurers of more than $100 million worth of cargo on board the Ever Given. “What sets this apart is the amount of money being requested – it’s far, far beyond what anyone in our industry would expect.”

With negotiations at an impasse, the Ever Given’s Indian crew remain stuck on board a ship that cannot sail. And there’s only so much work to do for a ship that’s going nowhere. The Ever Given does at least have Wi-Fi to help pass the time and stave off cabin fever. There’s also a toll-free counselling helpline for the crew and their families. “Being in anchorage for so long definitely dampens the spirits,” says Abdulgani Serang, who heads the National Union of Seafarers of India, which has visited the crew on board. “But, in this case, it comes with the baggage of the Suez Canal incident, which adds to their trauma.”

The Ever Given was due to dock at Rotterdam on April 3, where much of its estimated $700m worth of cargo was to be offloaded and forwarded on to the rest of Europe. In the time that it’s idled, more than 4,000 vessels have passed it by on Great Bitter Lake. The delay has been so long that seven crew members have returned home following the end of their contracts. But the SCA’s requirement that the ship is operational means that six replacement seafarers have been drafted in from India – notwithstanding the Delta variant of Covid-19 that has torn through the country.

The amount of money tied up in this one boat is mind-boggling, and the fact that a group of people are trapped aboard the thing by all the legal machinations is depressing. At least I learned the cost of shipping: one 40 foot container (which is big and can hold a lot of merchandise), from China to Europe: $10,522. Out here in the painfully rural Midwest we’ve come to rely on services like Amazon to get our fix of toys and gadgets and useful tools, and it’s daunting to look at the tracking info and see how many of those things come from China — almost everything on my work desk has been on one of these ships or a cargo plane, and was delivered to me from half a planet away. We tend to take the global supply chain for granted, until something disrupts it.


  1. Dauphni says

    Intercontinental shipping has always involved tremendous amounts of money and that’s as true now as it was half a millennium ago. In fact that enormous cost was a major factor in the development of capitalism. Early on in the age of exploration those long-range voyages were typically funded by kings, because they were the only people rich enough to be able to afford them.
    But then the Netherlands rebelled against the Spanish crown, and decided to do without kings entirely. Merchant republics like Venice had of course existed for centuries, but they were confined to the Mediterranean, and to a lesser extent Baltic, sea.
    In order to raise the capital needed to fund ships reaching as far as the spice islands and the new world, Dutch merchants banded together and sold shares to private citizens, to be paid dividends upon the succesful completion of the voyage, and one of the major pillars of modern capitalism was founded.

  2. tacitus says

    At least I learned the cost of shipping: one 40 foot container (which is big and can hold a lot of merchandise), from China to Europe: $10,522.

    I’ve always been amazed at how Chinese marketplaces like AliExpress can sell cheap electronic gadgets and computer parts for a few bucks, including delivery. Still seems ridiculous to be able to pay only $2.99 including shipping for anything.

  3. davidc1 says

    @4 Didn’t GB take it off them after a war ?Then they exchanged New Amsterdam for a Nutmeg growing Island in the East Indies .Nutmeg was then worth more than Gold .
    There is a great book about it ,Nathaniel’s Nutmeg ,by Giles Milton .
    Talking of New Amsterdam ,whenever an amerucan posts that if it wasn’t for America in WW2 ,Britain would be speaking German ,i reply that if it wasn’t for GB New York would still be New Amsterdam ,and he would be speaking Dutch .

  4. says

    @#5, tacitus:

    Start running the numbers on just how much stuff there can be on the Ever Given (or another ship of similar size) and you’ll see that $10,522 literally costs practically nothing on a per-item basis.

    (Just as a rough estimate using lowball numbers: the Ever Given can hold 20000 twenty-foot containers, although it only had around 18300 when it got stuck. Each container is, internally, something like 19.5 feet by 7.5 feet by 7.5 feet. (Sorry for the Imperial units, it was what came up in the first search result.) That’s nearly 22 million cubic feet of space. If we assume only half the container capacity is used, and that things can only be packed with 50% efficiency within the containers because of shapes and padding and so on, and that each object shipped is an average of 2 cubic feet, we’re still talking about over a million objects shipped at once. $10522 divided by a million is just over one penny, so the portion of the shipping costs which are caused by actually carrying things on a container ship are totally negligible — of course, that doesn’t include the price of putting the things in a shipping container and loading them on the boat, or getting them off again and separating them. But the actual motion? Almost free.)