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25 Jan, 2024 07:31

Shipping giant abandons Red Sea route amid Houthi crisis

Maersk has suspended operations in the region after militants fired at two of its vessels
Shipping giant abandons Red Sea route amid Houthi crisis

The US branch of Danish shipping giant Moller-Maersk has said it will follow its parent company and stop sending merchant vessels through the Suez Canal and Red Sea due to attacks by the Yemen-based Houthis.

The Houthis – a Shia Islamist group that controls a large part of Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa – have been striking and hijacking ships crossing the vital waterway in solidarity with Palestinians amid the Israel-Hamas war. The militants recently said they would expand their attacks after the US and UK began bombing Houthi-linked targets in Yemen earlier this month.

Two vessels operated by Maersk Line (MLL) – the Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake – as well as their US Navy escort, came under attack from Houthi cruise missiles in the Bab-el-Mandeb strait on Wednesday, the company said.

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced later in the day that no ships had been damaged, while Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree claimed that several missiles hit their target and forced the ships to turn back.

“The US Navy has turned both ships around and is escorting them back to the Gulf of Aden,” a Maersk statement said, adding that “following the escalation of risk, MLL is suspending transits in the region until further notice.”

MLL operates US-flagged and US-crewed ships. The branch continued to use the Suez route until Wednesday, while its parent company suspended travel in the waterway on January 5.

Traffic via the Suez Canal – the fastest route from Asia to Europe – makes up around 15% of the world’s commercial shipping, according to the White House. In order to avoid the risk of Houthi missile attacks, some of the biggest freight companies in the world have been forced to reroute their vessels around the coast of Africa, facing increased costs and skyrocketing insurance premiums.

The US-led bombing operation against Yemen has been named ‘Operation Poseidon Archer’ – a separate endeavor from ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’, which was launched earlier to safeguard commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

The Houthis have vowed to continue their attacks on ships heading to Israel “until the aggression stops and the siege on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is lifted.”