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Suez ship’s owner braces for ‘thousands’ of legal claims

The scale of future litigation laid bare at a London court hearing.
Image: Islam Safwat, Bloomberg

The owner of the Ever Given, the cargo ship that blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week, hampering global trade and roiling markets, expects to be hit with “many hundreds or thousands” of legal claims.

The scale of future litigation against the vessel’s owners was laid bare at a London court hearing Tuesday where lawyers won a court order to put any potential claims on hold for two months. Two subsidiaries of Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the container vessels’ owner, and Evergreen Group, a Taiwanese conglomerate that operated it under a long-term charter, had asked a London judge for the stay.

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Earlier this year, they obtained another order limiting some claims against the ship to 84 million pounds ($116 million).

The 400-meter-long Ever Given grounded in the Suez canal days for several days in March, blocking the route in both directions and disrupting global trade. Last week, it began its voyage out of the canal and left Egyptian waters on Wednesday.

The owners expect to be sued by Evergreen and foresee potentially thousands more legal claims lodged by individual cargo owners against individual ship owners, their court lawyer Stewart Buckingham said at the London hearing.

The stay in proceedings will allow similar and overlapping claims to potentially be grouped together, limiting legal costs and court time, he said.

A further court hearing will be held in two months, when the owners will be equipped with more information as to any claims filed against it, allowing them to “see the lay of the land,” Buckingham said.

“The owners’ position is that they are not liable for the grounding incident or its consequences,” he said in a court filing. When the ship became stuck, it was being led by a Suez Canal pilot, who had earlier taken over from the harbor pilot who had driven the ship from the Suez anchorage into the canal, he said.

While there was some damage to the bow of the ship as a result of the incident, no injuries, deaths or pollution are understood to have occurred and the death of a canal worker involved in the re-floating is thought to be unrelated, he said.

Lawyers for the owner didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Evergreen declined to comment.

Any claims filed in the U.K. will likely take years before reaching a resolution. Some may be resolved by arbitration, an alternative and generally private alternative to long and costly court battles.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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