Shipping giants halt travel amid attacks

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At least eight ships have been assaulted in recent weeks in the key waterway linking the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea

Two global shipping majors, Denmark’s Maersk and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd, halted their vessels’ passage through the Red Sea on Friday, citing security risks.

In their statements, both companies said the measure comes in response to a string of attacks by Yemen-based Houthi rebels on ships traversing the area.

We are deeply concerned about the highly escalated security situation in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The recent attacks on commercial vessels in the area are alarming and pose a significant threat to the safety and security of seafarers,” Maersk said in a statement, referring to an incident involving its Maersk Gibraltar vessel on Thursday and another attack on a container ship on Friday. The company ordered all of its vessels in the area bound for the southern entrance to the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, to pause their passage until further notice.

Hapag-Lloyd, whose vessel Al Jasrah was also attacked on Friday, said in a statement to CNBC that it was halting all container ship traffic through the Red Sea until Monday and will then decide for the period thereafter.

It’s very worrisome because ships heading to the Suez have to pass through the strait. We are stopping some ships, but there is no general rule yet, though this could change,” the company’s spokesman Nils Haupt was cited as saying by the Wall Street Journal.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and then on to the Indian Ocean on one side and the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal on the other. The waterway is a key route linking Asia and Europe and facilitates roughly 12% of global trade, including 30% of all global container shipments.

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Ships pass through the Aqua Clara locks in Colon, Panama, September 20, 2023. Global trade in jeopardy amid crises at key waterways – FT

Yemen-based Houthi rebels, in a show of support for Hamas, launched attacks on vessels traversing the conduit following the escalation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. While the attacks were allegedly only aimed at ships linked to Israel, shipping companies consider the situation dangerous for all vessels. According to media reports, citing ship owners and brokers, at least eight ships have so far come under attack.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) on Friday said it “deplores the actions of the Houthis” and called for an immediate cessation of attacks. It also called on “states with influence in the region” to use it in order to “mitigate the threat to shipping presented by the Houthis” and “de-escalate what is now an extremely serious threat to international trade.” The trade body noted that some companies have already redirected their shipments to alternative routes “which adds cost and delay to global trade.”

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