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Giant Container Ship Bogged Down Again. This Time By Egyptian Authorities

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The giant container ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal a few weeks ago is stuck again - hasn't run aground this time, but has run afoul of Egyptian authorities. Here's NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: When all eyes were on the salvage effort to dislodge the Ever Given ship from the banks of the Suez Canal, sage maritime analysts were saying, once the massive vessel was free, the legal problems would begin. They were right. Shortly after it anchored at a nearby lake, the Suez Canal Authority seized the Ever Given, demanding $960 million in compensation. About a third of that, or $300 million, is for tugboats and dredging during the salvage operation.

JAI SHARMA: Based on my experience, I've never seen a salvage demand anywhere close to this figure.

NORTHAM: Jai Sharma is a maritime lawyer with the London based firm Clyde & Co, which is representing a number of insurers with claims for cargo on board. He says the rest of Egypt's claim includes about $300 million for lost canal revenues while the ship was stuck - he also disputes that price tag - and another roughly $300 million for reputational damage to Egypt.

SHARMA: Well, I mean, arguably, the scale of this demand has probably caused more damage to the reputation of the Suez Canal Authority than the grounding itself. If you were cynical - and I'm a shipping lawyer, so I am cynical - you may view it as just a negotiating tactic.

NORTHAM: And while that negotiating continues, about 18,000 cargo containers stuffed with consumer electronics, clothing, machinery - you name it - are stuck on board. Janet Porter is with Lloyd's List, a London-based maritime information service.

JANET PORTER: Both the ship and the cargo are arrested, so there's no way the cargo can be taken off at the moment.

NORTHAM: Porter says even if some deal was worked out, it's almost physically impossible to remove the cargo. She says there's no equipment capable of removing containers stacked eight or nine high where the Ever Given is currently anchored. Porter says the massive ship would have to be moved to unload it.

PORTER: You'd need huge cranes that can reach across, on this case, 23 rows of containers. And they only really exist in the big Asian and European ports or maybe in LA Long Beach. But they don't exist in Egypt.

NORTHAM: Egypt is also detaining on board the nearly two dozen crew members of the Ever Given. David Heindel is the head of the seafarers section of the International Transport Workers' Federation.

DAVID HEINDEL: My guess is the crews will likely be held for as long as Egypt could hold them to make sure that any witnesses don't disappear. To us - at this point, we have no issue. It's when seafarers' contracts are completed that we'll find out whether they're going to let them go or not. At this point, we do not know.

NORTHAM: Maritime lawyer Sharma says negotiations over the $960 million compensation claim could be protracted.

SHARMA: The Egyptian authorities are not in a particular rush, I imagine, and the gulf between the parties is so large, I don't think it will be resolved quickly unless they come down a lot.

NORTHAM: Which means the Ever Given, its cargo and crew could be in Egypt for a long time.

Jackie Northam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAS OF YEARS' "MESOPELAGIC TRANSMISSIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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