Shipping Giants halt Red Sea operations after Yemen’s Houthi strikes

Two shipping companies, Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, have announced a temporary suspension of all journeys through the Red Sea following a series of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels

Danish shipping company Maersk said on Friday it was suspending its vessels’ passage through the key Bab al-Mandeb Strait, and the German container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd said it would pause journeys in the Red Sea until Monday.

The attacks, hitting two Liberian-flagged ships in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, led to concerns about the safety of maritime traffic in the region.A projectile, believed to be a drone, struck one of the vessels, causing a fire but no injuries, the official said.

The ship was identified as the Liberia-flagged Al-Jasrah, a 370-metre (1,200-foot) container ship built in 2016.

Private intelligence firm Ambrey said the vessel, owned by German transport company Hapag-Lloyd, “sustained physical damage from an aerial attack” north of the Yemeni coastal city of al-Makha (Mocha).

“The projectile reportedly hit the port side of the vessel and one container fell overboard due to the impact. The projectile caused a fire on deck” that was reported over radio, Ambrey said.

Two ballistic missiles were fired in the second attack, one of which struck a vessel, causing a fire, which the crew was working to extinguish, the US official said.

The Associated Press news agency identified the vessel struck in the second attack as the Liberain-flagged MSC Palatium III.

“Following the near-miss incident involving Maersk Gibraltar yesterday [Thursday] and yet another attack on a container vessel today, we have instructed all Maersk vessels in the area bound to pass through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait to pause their journey until further notice,” said a statement from Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies.

German container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd has paused all its sailings through the Red Sea until December 18, a spokesperson said on Friday.

“Then we will decide for the period thereafter,” the spokesperson added.

Houthis claim responsibility

The Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for firing missiles at two ships, namely the MSC Alanya and MSC Palatium III, with the intention of targeting vessels heading to Israel.

However, an MSC spokesperson denied an attack on the Alanya and did not provide additional comments on the Houthi claim regarding the Palatium III.

Both ships had listed Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as their destination, not Israel.

The Houthis expressed their intent to prevent ships heading to Israeli ports until essential supplies for the Gaza Strip are delivered.

Despite the Houthi threats, a Hapag-Lloyd spokesman reported that their ship, en route from the Greek port of Piraeus to Singapore, experienced no casualties, and the vessel is continuing its journey.

 Concerns rise for commercial shipping

Concerns are rising over the threat posed to commercial shipping as Houthi rebels jeopardize freedom of movement in the Red Sea, a critical route for massive oil and goods shipments.

US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, currently in Israel, emphasized that the United States is collaborating with the international community, regional partners, and global allies to address this threat.

The recent attacks near Bab al-Mandab, a narrow strait between Yemen and northeast Africa, are particularly alarming as approximately 40 percent of international trade passes through this vital artery, connecting to the Red Sea, Israel’s southern port facilities, and the Suez Canal.

Insurance costs for ships navigating the area have surged in recent days, especially impacting larger vessels like oil tankers, with reported increases in the tens of thousands of dollars. Unlike well-equipped warships passing through the Red Sea, commercial vessels lack the same level of protection. Crews, facing heavy weapons fire, often abandon the bridge, controlling their vessels remotely from an armored citadel.

The motivations behind these attacks stem from regional rivalries citing the Palestinian death toll and Gaza’s occupation, heightening the risk of the conflict spreading. The rebels’ attempts to hijack and capture ships, successfully carried out at least once in November, involve ordering vessels to surrender and head to a Yemeni port, resorting to open fire if non-compliance occurs. To counter these threats, US, French, and British warships are actively patrolling the region, intercepting and neutralizing missiles in the sky.

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