Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo
The Japanese people praised the Egyptian authorities who rescued the container ship the Ever Given which ran aground and blocked the Suez Canal on March 23 and refloated almost a week later. The Egyptian people reminded the world its ability to improvise the solution even when in a series of unprecedented difficult situations.
After that, however, things began to look bleak.
As if being held hostage, the Ever Given remains anchored in the Great Bitter Lake since March 29. Aside from the necessary investigations on what caused the incident and who’s responsible, there are reports that Egyptian authorities have demanding the owner of the ship to agree $1 billion in compensation for the damage incurred to the Suez Canal.
The Japanese company Shoei Kisen KK which owns the container ship has not shied away from the responsibility from the outset and has shown no intention of blaming on others. The amount of money reportedly demanded for compensation, however, looks far exceeds the common expectation, even if the incomparable importance of the Suez Canal in the world economy is considered.
As the detention of the ship prolonged, the value of the cargo is diminishing. Food products are rotten, cars and electronic devises and components are going to be outdated. Health conditions of the crew members are of great concern.
Even more problematic, the reputation and competitiveness of the Suez Canal itself is at risk if the compensation for the accident exceeds the limit covered by the insurance. The use of the Canal which has been known safe and secure passage in the transportation between Asia and Europe would become highly risky business. Shipping companies may start searching for alternative routes. It might be difficult, but it is commonly said “necessity is the mother of success.”
There is a glimmer of hope since the head of the Suez Canal Authority suggested on April 26 the hope of an agreement with the owner and insurer.
The incident has shown the fragility of depending on a single narrow route in the global transportation.
The world joint effort is in dire need in improving and enhancing the capacity of this critical choking point of the world economy. Human and material resources should be invested more in negotiations for updating the canal. Japanese people are happy to join in hands with Egyptian authority and its people who have amply shown their dedication to work day and night to rescue the ship, their bravery and their sense of ingenuity.