Dutch salvor Smit Salvage has been enlisted to help refloat the grounded containership that has blocked the Suez Canal since Tuesday.

Martijn Schuttevaer, spokesman for Dutch marine services company and Smit parent company Boskalis, told Reuters late on Wednesday that it had dispatched a 10-strong team to assist with the operation.

Shipping agencies that handle canal transits reported the salvage operation that saw dredgers and tugs dispatched to the 20,388-teu Ever Given (built 2018) were suspended overnight but are set to resume on Thursday morning.

Earlier reports on Wednesday that the grounded vessel has been partially refloated and had been moored alongside the canal bank proved premature.

On Thursday morning the ship remained wedged across the southern section of the canal with tugs belonging to the Suez Canal Authority and Svitzer still in attendance.

Norwegian canal transit specialist Leth Agencies reported via Twitter late on Wednesday night that the plan for Thursday included moving the two vessels that were immediately behind the Ever Given out of the canal and back to the Suez anchorage to make room for tugs to refloat the stranded ship and tow it back to Suez.

These ships, the 6,200-teu containership Maersk Denver (built 2007) and 63,000-dwt bulker Asia Ruby III (built 2014), were moored alongside the canal bank after the Ever Given blocked their path.

Insurance nightmare

The Suez Canal Authority's head, Lietentant General Ossama Rabei, second right, speaks to other staff onboard a boat near the stuck Ever Given on Wednesday. Rabei's organisation could levy substantial claims againt the vessel's owner, Shoei Kisen. Photo: Scanpix

The Shoei Kisen-owned Ever Given has protection and indemnity coverage from the UK P&I Club, while its hull and machinery is insured in the Japanese market, insurance sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

The claims total in the millions of dollars even if the ship is refloated quickly as Shoei Kisen and its insurers could face claims from the Suez Canal Authority for loss of revenue and from other ships whose passage has been disrupted, they said.

There could also be claims for damage to the canal itself.

The UK P&I Club will be required to cover all third-party risks for damage caused to cargo during transit, risks of environmental damage and injuries.

So far, there have been no reports of pollution, injuries, or damage to the Ever Given’s cargo.

The cost of the salvage operation is borne by the hull and machinery insurer.

The bulk of those insurance claims would then likely be reinsured through a programme run by the wider International Group of P&I Clubs, said David Smith, head of marine at insurance broker McGill and Partners.

Backlog grows

The Ever Given's grounding has cause serious vessel congestion at the Suez Canal. An estimated 34 vessels are waiting in the Great Bitter Lake, through which the Suez Canal runs. Photo: VesselsValue

With an average of 50 or so vessels transiting the Suez Canal every day, its closure following Tuesday’s grounding has led to a large and growing backlog of ships.

The result has been a temporary standstill the busiest Asia to Europe trade route.

Leth Agencies reported on Thursday morning that 71 vessels were at Suez Anchorage awaiting a northbound transit.

A further 79 vessels were awaiting a southbound transit, of which 34 were anchored at Great Bitter Lake and 45 at Port Said’s outer anchorage.

This volume of shipping continued to grow steadily as more vessels arrived at the anchorages.

Depending on when the canal can open, some analyst predict it might take up to a week for the backlog to clear.

TradeWinds reported on Wednesday that analysts expected the disruption to boost freight rates and create security risks.

Industry experts forecasted that the spectacle would provide a short-term boost to container rates, while tanker and bulker owners could also benefit.

Figures from Kepler Cheuvreux revealed 27% of the global container trade utilised the Suez Canal last year.

“Given the already stretched supply situation for the container fleet, this closure of the canal is likely to have an upward effect on container freight rates, already close to all-time-high levels,” the financial services provider said.

Greg Knowler, senior European editor at JOC by IHS Markit, said that the blockage came at “a particularly unhelpful time” with the Asia-Europe supply chain stretched to the limit.

Vortexa’s senior freight analyst, Arthur Richier, said tanker owners and charterers faced the tough choice of staying put until traffic resumes or sailing around the Cape of Good Hope.

“If it clears quickly, the risk of impact may be minimal, but every passing hour will support oil prices as well as freight rates,” Richier said.