The Ever Given may no longer be in the day-to-day news, but the Ever Given has not moved from the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the Suez Canal after nearly a month.
The crew still trapped on the vessel are very concerned, as there seems to be no sign of an agreement being reached between Egypt and the owners of the Ever Given anytime soon. Until there is an agreement, the crew will remain trapped there and could be trapped there for years.
Apparently, it is not unusual for crew members to be trapped on ships in international maritime disputes. The Guardian details the fate of a sailor who has been the sole guardian of a ship for the past two years in the Gulf of Suez, just 50 miles from where the Ever Given is located since it was released in March. He is 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 missing owners, wage disputes and management problems, widespread enough for the International Labor Organization to maintain a database of cases of abandoned seafarers.
For the ITF and its partners in the National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI), the priority in the Ever Given case is to ensure that the 26-strong Indian crew is protected while a legal battle rages around the ship. It is now anchored in the Great Bitter Lake after it was evicted from the banks of the Suez Canal two weeks ago.
The crew is caught in the middle of a legal battle between the Suez Canal Authority, which is basically a proxy for the Egyptian government, the owners of the Ever Given, the Japanese company Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd. and the ship’s operators, a German company called Bernhard Schulte. The SCA is demanding $916 million in damages due to the blockade, while Shoei Kisen disputes those charges. Until the company pays up, Egypt’s government is holding on to the ship.
SCA chairman Osama Rabie told local television that Ever Given’s owners were disputing most of the huge sum and “don’t want to pay anything.”
The UK P&I Club, a marine insurance company representing the owners of the Panamanian-flagged ship, said, “The SCA has not provided detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bond’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation’.”
The company said it disputed the claim that the incident had damaged SCA’s reputation. “We are also disappointed by SCA’s comments that the ship will remain in Egypt until compensation is paid and that its crew will not be able to leave the ship during this time.”
Settling this 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 concerned, according to representatives of the National Union of Indian Seafarers, the union representing the Ever Given’s crew. It’s a good thing these guys are part of a union, as no one else is considering their role in all this.
Mohamed Arrachedi, ITF coordinator, said the plight of seafarers is rarely prioritized despite their vital role in world trade. “Seafarers are not a priority when there is conflict,” he said.
Abandonment officially occurs when shipowners fail to cover the costs of repatriating seafarers, pay their wages or otherwise shirk their responsibilities to provide support to seafarers for more than two months.
According to the International Maritime Organization, there were at least 31 cases of abandonment between January and August 2020, affecting 470 seafarers. The IMO has recorded 438 cases affecting 5767 seafarers since 2004.
“The issues are always big when it comes to shipping, as it is a global industry that affects our lives more directly than we think,” said ITF’s Arrachedi. “Everything is globalized, but when it comes to seafarers and their rights, there is also hesitation to globalize these rights.”
So, apparently, a ship sailing under a Panamanian flag, owned by a Japanese company, operated by a German company, manned by people from India and stuck in Egypt has no international guarantees of rights so that its workers don’t end up in a kind of lonely floating confinement. The world literally runs on these kinds of shipments and they are only made possible by these sailors that companies can apparently abandon if they so choose on the spreadsheet. That’s pretty discouraging. Hopefully, the Ever Given crew can get some justice and a flight home soon.