Indian Officials Fear Ever Given Crew Will Be 'Scapegoats' Over Costly Suez Canal Blockage

Officials in India fear that the 25-person crew of Indian nationals aboard the Ever Given could be used as "scapegoats," as investigators try to uncover exactly how the massive ship became stuck in Egypt's Suez Canal for a week.

The Panama-flagged, Japanese-owned ship, which is operated by Evergreen Marine in Taiwan, was first grounded in the waterway on March 23, while on the way to the Netherlands. The incident blocked all traffic across the canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, causing at least 369 ships to be halted.

On Monday, the massive vessel (1,300 feet long, 220,000 tons) was finally freed with the help of more than a dozen tugboats.

But the ship's blockage of the canal for a week has resulted in costly global repercussions. Economic losses from the shutdown have been estimated at up to $10 billion per day, according the USA Today.

The issue has prompted intense international interest in determining the cause of the ship's grounding, and whether or not it could have been a result of human error.

High winds and a sandstorm have been partially blamed for pushing the Ever Given and its 20,000 shipping containers sideways, wedging it between the banks of the canal.

Ever Given
The Ever Given container ship as it begins to move. The photo was taken on March 29, 2021, from a nearby tugboat in the Suez Canal. AFP/Getty Images

But on Monday, Osama Rabie, chairman of the Egyptian-owned Suez Canal Authority, said weather issues might not have been the only reason the ship was grounded.

"Such grave accidents may not be caused by a single factor, part of it could be the wind, another part could be the human element, and another part could be technical," Rabie said during a news conference Monday, Reuters reported.

"All of these factors will become apparent in the investigation."

The ship owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, said on Tuesday that it would be part of the investigation along with others, but it did not identify those parties by name, Al Jazeera reported.

Now, the Indian government and its seafarers organizations fear the crew of 25 could be improperly blamed for the incident, The Times of India reported.

"There is a clear danger that the crew will be made scapegoats," a senior official in India's shipping industry anonymously told the outlet on Monday.

Officials have signaled fears that amid investigations, the captain of the Ever Given and some crew members could face legal consequences or be blocked from further travel, the outlet reported.

David Heindel, chairman of the International Transport Workers' Federation, echoed those concerns by cautioning against a rush to judgment, and noted that crew members are often blamed for calamities at sea.

"Too often, seafarers are unfairly blamed for incidents at sea," Heindel said, according to the USA Today. "When proper investigations are conducted we are able to stand back and see the systematic factors which drive bad outcomes."

The National Union of Seafarers of India (NUSI) has also vowed solidarity with the crew pending investigations.

"Let's not jump the gun. The seafarers of Ever Given are professionals discharging their professional duties. The ship having been refloated, we await the impartial inquiry into the incident," Abdulgani Serang, the union's general secretary, told Newsweek on Wednesday.

"At no point of time the seafarers are alone. In unflinching solidarity, NUSI stands behind the seafarers of Ever Given in support whenever required and in whatever manner required as we have our own systems in place," Serang added.

The ship's crew, which remained aboard the ship while it was stuck, was reported to be safe and in good health, according to its manager, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM). BSM also said its initial investigations ruled out mechanical or engine failure, and praised the crew for its work.

"A crew of 25 Indian nationals remain aboard the vessel," BSM wrote on its website, bs-shipmanagement.com. "They are safe, in good health, and have been working closely with all parties involved to re-float the vessel. Their hard work and tireless professionalism are greatly appreciated.

There have been no charges or legal repercussions filed against any individuals associated with the ship's grounding.