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May 23, 2024

Shipping Giants Cautiously Resume Red Sea Operations Amid Ongoing Attacks

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Dec 28, 2023

Several major shipping companies have begun taking initial steps to resume operations in the Red Sea in recent days, after avoiding the strategic waters for weeks due to attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. However, firms remain divided over whether the volatile region is safe enough for commercial shipping traffic.

Maersk Leads Push to Restore Vital Trade Route

Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk said on December 24th that it is “preparing for a gradual and safe resumption of operations” in the Red Sea, citing improved security conditions.

The company has scheduled dozens of vessels to transit through the critical Suez Canal and southern Red Sea in the coming weeks, under the protection of the recently deployed US-led naval coalition named Operation Prosperity Guardian.

“The combined efforts of the military vessels and coliition partners has helped to establish a more stable and safe operational environment for civilian commercial vessels in the southern part of the Red Sea,” Maersk said in a statement.

Maersk had rerouted over 30 container vessels to avoid the region after a spike in attacks on commercial ships by the Iran-backed Houthis in late November and early December. This led to global supply chain disruptions and shipment delays.

The Houthis have targeted vessels near Yemen with explosive drone boats and missiles as part of their eight-year civil war with the internationally recognized government. Experts say the rebels are trying to pressure a Saudi-led coalition backing the government to ease restrictions on Houthi-held ports.

Other Firms Remain Wary as Attacks Persist

German container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd said this week it will continue avoiding the Red Sea, citing ongoing security threats.

“Unless there’s a really good navy armada escourt, the risk is still just too high,” Hapag-Lloyd CEO Rolf Habben Jansen told the Wall Street Journal.

The company said it has no plans to resume Red Sea operations on January 1st when its current work-around measure expires.

Similarly, Taiwan’s Evergreen Line and Hong Kong-based Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) stated they have no immediate plans to restore Red Sea routes despite the international naval deployment.

Over a dozen tankers and cargo ships continue sailing outside the Red Sea as well, including vessels operated by Singapore’s Ocean Network Express and China COSCO.

Experts say firms are worried about rising insurance costs due to the attacks, as well as the general volatility posed by the Yemen war spilling over into vital global trade arteries.

“The security situation is still very ambiguous, and some shipowners remain skeptical about the waterway’s safety,” said maritime analyst Michal Meidan of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.

Attacks Ease But Don’t Cease After Naval Deployment

The Houthis appeared to briefly ease their maritime offensive following the December 14th announcement that the US Navy would lead a security coalition along with Saudi Arabia and other regional partners.

No attacks were reported for over a week as the US 5th Fleet and allies began escorting commercial ships through the southern Red Sea and Bab-el-Mandeb strait.

However, the rebels resumed missile strikes on December 25th by targeting a fuel tanker off the Yemeni port of Midi. They launched two more long-range attacks in recent days without inflicting damage.

Date Target Weapon Result
Dec. 25 Oil tanker Cruise missile Missed
Dec. 26 Saudi airport Ballistic missile Intercepted
Dec. 27 Unknown Cruise missile Fell in sea

While these latest incidents didn’t disrupt shipping traffic, they serve as a reminder that tensions remain extremely high in the Red Sea region.

Most vessels are expected to take precautionary measures like sailing closer to African shores and maintaining high speeds during transits. But the threat of crossfire clashes or direct attacks still poses a major risk.

International Response Ramps Up to Deter Attacks

In addition to the US-led naval security operation, several other recent developments could help stabilize the situation:

  • The UK announced it will send a warship to assist Operation Prosperity Guardian in January. France and Germany also offered military support.

  • Saudi Arabia and Egypt held joint naval drills involving submarines and fighter jets after the Houthi attacks intensified.

  • The UAE signed a $3 billion arms deal to purchase South Korean missiles capable of intercepting Houthi weapons. The US approved a $1 billion sale of anti-air missiles to Saudi Arabia.

Several nations have condemned Iran’s alleged role in enabling Houthi attacks on global trade, though Tehran denies supplying the rebels with missiles and drones.

Diplomatic efforts by Oman and China to broker a ceasefire between the Houthis and Saudi coalition have made little progress so far. With peace talks stalled, episodic skirmishes seem inevitable even as naval defenses improve.

Outlook: Firms Brace For More Disruptions

In the near term, most analysts expect shipping companies to undertake Red Sea voyages where possible, but with extremely cautious planning in coordination with naval allies.

Frequent route changes, stoppages, and delays could become standard as carriers try balancing profitability with duty-of-care for vulnerable crews.

“I think they’ll play it by ear depending on security,” said maritime lawyer Jared Watney. “It’s unlikely that Houthi attacks drop to zero overnight.”

Indeed, the rebel movement shows no intention of halting its aerial offensive or maritime suicide drone operations at this stage.

That leaves the Red Sea in a state of “limited and uneasy calm” for now, Watney says. Major shipping companies will likely test the waters while keeping contingency avoidances plans ready in case the risk axis tilts.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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