Suez Canal chief suggests "mistake" by captain in ship's stranding

©Kyodo News

The chairman of the Suez Canal Authority has suggested a possible mistake by the captain of a container ship as the reason why the massive vessel became stuck in the vital international waterway in late March.

"Maybe the captain made a mistake in a specific (operation) request, such as the rudder or speed, which could have led to that," Osama Rabie said in a recent interview, in reference to the skipper of the 400-meter-long, 220,000-ton Ever Given.

The Panama-flagged vessel, owned by Japanese ship-leasing company Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd. and operated by Taiwan's Evergreen Marine Corp., became wedged in the canal on March 23, causing disruption to global traffic, before it was finally freed six days later.

Even though a Suez Canal Authority guide was aboard the Ever Given, Rabie said the authority bears no responsibility for the incident, which he has estimated could incur more than $1 billion in damages.

The guide has "a consultative role" but the captain "is responsible for (operations of) the ship," he said, speaking in Arabic.

"Even when orders are issued by the guide, the captain has the right to change them or use any route or speed other than what the guide says," Rabie said. "There was no error or responsibility on the part of the Suez Canal."

The chairman, however, did not touch on the issue of compensation.

The blockage forced more than 400 ships to stall in and around the canal, one of the world's heaviest shipping lanes linking the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Rabie dismissed strong winds as the main reason for the incident.

An investigation has started into why the Ever Given became stuck in the canal. The ship was on its way to Rotterdam in the Netherlands from China.