Egypt seizes ship that blocked Suez Canal over $900m compensation claim

Egypt will impound the giant container ship that blocked the Suez Canal last month until its Japanese owner pays $900m (£652m) in compensation.

One of the Ever Given’s insurers, UK Club, said the Suez Canal Authority had rejected its offer to settle the claim.

It described the claim, which includes $300m for a salvage bonus and $300m for loss of reputation, as “extraordinarily large” and “largely unsupported”.

The Ever Given is anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, the canal’s midway point.

The 400m-long (1,312ft), 220,000-tonne ship became wedged diagonally across the waterway on 23 March after running aground amid high winds and a sandstorm that affected visibility.

It was freed six days later, after a salvage operation involving a flotilla of powerful tug boats and dredging vessels that shifted an estimated 30,000 cubic metres (1.1m cubic ft) of mud and sand.

More than 400 vessels had to wait to pass through the 193km (120-mile) canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and provides the shortest sea link between Asia and Europe.

The chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), Osama Rabie, said on Tuesday that the Ever Given had been “seized due to its failure to pay $900m” in compensation, Egyptian state media reported.

The figure was based on the “the losses incurred by the grounded vessel as well as the flotation and maintenance costs”, he added.

UK Club – which insured the ship’s owner Shoei Kisen Kaisha for third-party liabilities, including damage caused to infrastructure or claims for obstruction – said in a statement that it had been negotiating in good faith with the SCA “despite the magnitude of the claim”

“On [Monday], a carefully considered and generous offer was made to the SCA to settle their claim,” it added. “We are disappointed by the SCA’s subsequent decision to arrest the vessel.”

“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.”

A handout satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows the excavation and dredging operations around the Ever Given on 28 March 2021
image captionThis satellite photograph shows how the Ever Given was wedged across the canal

UK Club said the SCA had not provided a detailed justification for its claim, noting that the grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries.

It also said the claim did not include the fees of the specialist salvage company brought in to help refloat the Ever Given, which the owner and another insurer expected to pay separately.

A spokeswoman for Shoei Kisen Kaisha confirmed to Agence France-Presse that the Ever Given’s fate was “in the legal arena”.

Map showing Suez Canal and location of Ever Given in the Great Bitter Lake (30 March 2021)

The Ever Given’s technical managers, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, also expressed disappointment with the decision on Wednesday in a statement confirming that inspections by the American Bureau of Shipping, the vessel’s classification society, had been concluded.

“The vessel has been declared suitable for onward passage to Port Said where she will be assessed again before departing for Rotterdam,” it said.

The Ever Given’s 25 Indian crew members had been co-operating fully with the Egyptian authorities and their investigation into the grounding, including granting access to the vessel’s voyage data recorder and other materials and data, the statement added.

“The crew on board remain in good health and good spirits, fulfilling their duties to the highest of standards. BSM is in regular contact with the crew and has offered support to the seafarers’ families.”

Suez Canal: Fresh effort to refloat wedged container ship

A fresh effort is under way to refloat a giant container ship blocking Egypt’s Suez Canal.

Canal authorities say 14 tugboats are trying to take advantage of Saturday’s high tide and more will arrive on Sunday if today’s attempt fails. 

The Ever Given became wedged in the canal – one of the world’s busiest waterways – on Tuesday.

More than 300 ships are stuck on either side of the blockage. Some ships have had to reroute around Africa.

By late Friday, dredgers had removed about 20,000 tonnes of sand from around the Ever Given’s bow, which was stuck deep into the canal’s bank.

The chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), Osama Rabie, told a news conference on Saturday that 9,000 tonnes of ballast water had been removed from the ship.

He said that the stern had begun to move on Friday night and that the rudder and propeller had started working again. Strong tides and winds had made freeing the ship more difficult, he added.

Mr Rabie could not say how soon the ship might be refloated but said the authority would “work around the clock” to get other ships through once the Ever Given was moved.

The SCA has brought in Netherlands-based Smit Salvage to help the effort. Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Smit’s parent company Boskalis, said on Friday that the bow was “really stuck in the sandy clay, but the stern has not been pushed totally into the clay, which is positive”.

“We can try to use that as leverage to pull it loose,” he told Dutch TV programme Nieuwsuur.

“We hope that a combination of the tugboats, dredging of sand at the bow and a high tide will enable us to get the ship loose.”

Map showing alternative route for shipping while Suez Canal blocked

Nawal El Saadawi: Feminist firebrand who dared to write dangerously

“They said, ‘You are a savage and dangerous woman.’

“I am speaking the truth. And the truth is savage and dangerous.”

So wrote Nawal El Saadawi, who has died at the age of 89, according to Egyptian media reports.

The pioneering Egyptian doctor, feminist and writer spent decades sharing her own story and perspectives – in her novels, essays, autobiographies and eagerly attended talks.

Her brutal honesty and unwavering dedication to improving the political and sexual rights of women inspired generations. 

But in daring to speak dangerously, she was also subjected to outrage, death threats and imprisonment. 

“She was born with fighting spirit,” Omnia Amin, her friend and translator, told the BBC in 2020. 

“People like her are rare.”

Born in a village outside Cairo in 1931, the second of nine children, El Saadawi wrote her first novel at the age of 13. Her father was a government official, with little money, while her mother came from a wealthy background.

Her family tried to make her marry at the age of 10, but when she resisted her mother stood by her. 

Her parents encouraged her education, El Saadawi wrote, but she realised at an early age that daughters were less valued than sons. Later she would describe how she stamped her foot in fury when her grandmother told her, “a boy is worth 15 girls at least… Girls are a blight”.

“She saw something wrong and she spoke out,” says Dr Amin. “Nawal can’t turn her back.”

One of the childhood experiences El Saadawi documented with uncomfortable clarity was being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) at the age of six. 

In her book, The Hidden Face of Eve, she described undergoing the agonising procedure on the bathroom floor, as her mother stood alongside. 

She campaigned against FGM throughout her lifetime, arguing that it was a tool used to oppress women. FGM was banned in Egypt in 2008, but El Saadawi condemned its continued prevalence.

Nawal El Saadawi 28 February1986.
image captionEl Saadawi, pictured in 1986, was a fierce critic of religion

El Saadawi graduated with a degree in medicine from Cairo University in 1955 and worked as a doctor, eventually specialising in psychiatry. 

She went on to become director of public health for the Egyptian government, but was dismissed in 1972 after publishing her non-fiction book, Women and Sex, which railed against FGM and the sexual oppression of women. 

The magazine Health, which had she founded a few years earlier, was closed down in 1973. 

Still, she continued to speak out and write. In 1975, she published Woman at Point Zero, a novel based on a real life account of a woman on death row she had met.

It was followed in 1977 by the Hidden Face of Eve, in which she documented her experiences as a village doctor witnessing sexual abuse, “honour killings” and prostitution. It caused outrage, with critics accusing her of reinforcing stereotypes of Arab women.

Then, in September 1981, El Saadawi was arrested as part of a round-up of dissidents under President Anwar Sadat and held in prison for three months. There she wrote her memoirs on toilet paper, using an eyebrow pencil smuggled to her by a jailed sex worker.

“She did things that people just didn’t venture to do, but for her it was normal,” Dr Amin says.

“She wasn’t thinking about breaking rules or regulations, but telling her truth.” View original tweet on Twitter

After President Sadat was assassinated, El Saadawi was released. But her work was censored and her books banned.

In the years that followed, she received death threats from religious fundamentalists, was taken to court, and eventually went into exile in the US. 

There she continued to level attacks against religion, colonialism and Western hypocrisy. She railed against the Muslim veil but also make-up and revealing clothes – upsetting even fellow feminists.

When BBC presenter Zeinab Badawi suggested during an interview in 2018 that she tone down her criticism, El Saadawi replied: “No. I should be more outspoken, I should be more aggressive, because the world is becoming more aggressive, and we need people to speak loudly against injustices.

“I speak loudly because I am angry.”

Dr Nawal El Saadawi , Egyptian writer, doctor, novelist , visits the Occupy London camp at St Paul's on her 80th birthday
image captionEl Saadawi visited the Occupy London camp at St Paul’s on her 80th birthday in 2011

As well as sparking outrage, El Saadawi gained much international recognition, with her books translated into more than 40 languages.

“I know people do not always agree with her politics, but what inspires me most is her writing, what she has achieved and what that can do for women,” says British author and publisher Kadija Sesay, who acted as her agent in London. 

“Especially if you are an African woman, or a woman of colour, you will be affected by her work.”

She received numerous honorary degrees from universities around the world. In 2020, Time magazine named her one of its 100 Women of the Year, dedicating a front cover to her. 

But one thing would remain out of reach.

“Her only dream or hope was for some acknowledgement from Egypt,” Dr Amin says. “She said she had received honours worldwide, but never got anything from her own country.”

El Saadawi returned to her beloved Egypt in 1996 and soon caused a stir. 

She stood as a presidential candidate in the 2004 election and was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak. 

She spent her final years in Cairo, close to her son and daughter. As Egyptian newspapers reported her death, the simple message (in Arabic) “Nawal Al-Saadawi…….. goodbye”appeared on her Facebook page.

“She has been through a lot,” said Dr Amin. “She has affected generations. 

“The young try to look for role models. She stands up.”

Kadija Sesay remembers the writer for her willingness to listen to other women’s stories and speaking to them about their harsh experiences. 

“I don’t know many people, especially when thy are that well known, who are that giving,” she says.

“But she didn’t want to be anybody’s hero – she’d say, ‘Be your own hero’.”

By Jasmine Taylor-Coleman
BBC News

Coronavirus: Egypt begins vaccinations

Egypt – the Arab world’s most populous nation – has begun the process of vaccinating its more than 100 million citizens against the coronavirus. The country has recorded nearly 9,000 deaths from the disease.

The first recipients of a vaccine were a doctor and a nurse. They were given a Chinese-made injection. 

Vaccines from Britain and Russia will be included in the inoculation programme as it unfolds. 

Egypt’s health minister said the country was aiming to produce an injection locally, with a view to distributing it to the rest of Africa. 

There have been warnings that the continent is in danger of being left behind, as richer parts of the world strike vaccine-supply deals and drive up prices.

By: Alan Johnston

Biden offers condolences on Egypt helicopter crash

Biden has expressed condolences to the families and friends of six American peacekeepers who died in a helicopter crash in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula earlier on Thursday.

In a tweet, the US president-elect also wished “a speedy recovery” to one US national who survived the crash.

“I join all Americans in honouring their sacrifice, as I keep their loved ones in my prayers,” Biden wrote.

The American death toll was initially given as six before later being revised to five.

Biden on Twitter

A French citizen and a Czech citizen also died.

An investigation is now under way into what caused the crash.

Read our full story here