The news cycle may have moved on from the Ever Given, but the Ever Given still hasn’t moved on from its holding spot in the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the Suez Canal after almost a month. The crew still stuck on the ship is very concerned about this, as there seems to be no sign that an agreement will be reached between Egypt and the Ever Given’s owners any time soon. Until there is an agreement in place, the crew is stuck there, and they could be for years.
Update Wednesday May 5, 2021 10:30 a.m. EST: Three members of the Ever Given’s crew have been allowed to disembark at the end of their contracts. They join two other crew members who were granted permission to leave in April due to personal reasons, Business Insider reports.
Apparently, it isn’t unusual for crew members to get trapped on ships caught in the middle of international shipping disputes. The Guardian details the fate of one sailor who has been the lone guardian of a ship for the last two years in the Gulf of Suez only 50 miles south of where the Ever Given has been held since it was freed back in March. He’s only allowed off the ship for two hour intervals to get food and water.
It is surprisingly common for ships and their crews to be stranded and sometimes abandoned due to disappearing owners, pay disputes and management troubles – widespread enough that the International Labour Organization maintains a database of cases of abandoned seafarers.
For the ITF and its partners at the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), the priority in the case of the Ever Given is ensuring that the 26-person Indian crew are protected as a legal battle rages around the ship. It is now at anchor in the Great Bitter Lake after it was dislodged from the banks of the Suez Canal two weeks ago.
The crew is stuck in the middle of a legal battle between the Suez Canal Authority, which is basically a stand-in for the Egyptian government, the owners of the Ever Given, Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd and the operators of the ship, a German company called Bernhard Schulte. The SCA is demanding $916 million in damages due to the blockage while Shoei Kisen disputes those charges. Until the company pays up, the government of Egypt is holding on to the ship.
The SCA’s chairman, Osama Rabie, told local television that the Ever Given’s owners were contesting the majority of the huge sum and “they do not want to pay anything”.
The UK P&I Club, a maritime insurance company that represent the owners of the Panamanian-flagged ship, said: “The SCA has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300m claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300m claim for ‘loss of reputation’.”.
It said the claim that the incident had damaged the SCA’s reputation was disputed. “We are also disappointed at comments by the SCA that the ship will be held in Egypt until compensation is paid, and that her crew will be unable to leave the vessel during this time.”
Figuring this out between all the international corporations and insurance companies and government agencies could take years, which is exactly what the 26-person crew of the Ever Given does not want. The crew is reportedly in good spirits, but apprehensive according to representatives from the National Union of Seafarers of India, the trade union representing the Ever Given’s crew. It’s a good thing these guys are part of a union, as no one else is even considering their role in all of this. From the Guardian:
Mohamed Arrachedi, a coordinator at the ITF, said the status of seafarers rarely took precedence despite their essential role in global trade. “Seafarers aren’t a priority when there’s conflict,” he said.
Abandonment officially occurs when shipowners fail to cover seafarers’ repatriation costs, pay their wages or otherwise shirk their responsibilities to provide seafarers with support for more than two months.
According to the International Maritime Organisation, there were at least 31 cases of abandonment between January and August 2020, concerning 470 seafarers. The IMO has recorded 438 cases affecting 5,767 seafarers since 2004.
“Problems are always big when it comes to shipping, as it’s a global industry that affects our lives more directly than we think,” said the ITF’s Arrachedi. “Everything is globalised, but when it comes to seafarers and their rights, there’s a hesitation to globalise these rights too.”
So apparently a ship, sailing under the Panamanian flag, owned by a Japanese company, operated by a German company, staffed by Indians and stuck in Egypt has no international guarantees of rights for its workers not to end up in a kind of floating solitary confinement. The world literally runs on this kind of shipping and it’s only possible because of these sailors that companies can apparently abandon if that’s how the spreadsheet shakes out. That’s fairly discouraging. Hopefully, the crew of the Ever Given can get some justice, and a flight home, soon.
Update 4/27/2021: The Suez Canal Authority denies holding the Ever Given crew for ransom and says that they are allowed to come and go, reports Business Insider. However, there are a couple of big caveats. The crew can leave or be replaced so long as there are enough sailors left behind to secure the vessel, and the captain cannot leave, either. So, the sailors are still pretty much stuck.