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How One of the World’s Biggest Ships Jammed the Suez Canal

July 17, 2021

The New York Times

Four months after the megaship Ever Given got stuck in the canal, neither the canal nor the shipping industry has addressed some of the most critical issues that led to the grounding.

When the Ever Given — one of the largest container ships ever built, more sideways skyscraper than boat — got stuck in the Suez Canal for six days in March, it dammed up worldwide shipping and froze nearly $10 billion in trade a day.

For the internet, it was a bottomlessly amusing spectacle. For global shipping, it was a worst-nightmare lesson in the perils of a new breed of mega-freighter operating in tight spaces.

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Under Suez Canal Authority rules, local pilots advise the ship’s crew on steering and navigation, though captains retain final responsibility and can overrule a pilot’s order. In practice, however, captains usually defer to the pilots’ expertise and rarely contravene their commands, several ship officers who have traversed the canal said in interviews.

The captain is “in a very difficult spot, because he’s basically damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t,” said Alfred Kuffler, a longtime maritime attorney. “You’ve got a pilot, he’s the local expert, you depend on him, so you’re not going to overrule the pilot readily.

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