Maersk Halts Red Sea Traffic Amid Houthi Attacks

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
December 15, 2023Middle East
Maersk Halts Red Sea Traffic Amid Houthi Attacks
Containers of Danish shipping and logistics company Maersk are seen in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Sept. 14, 2023. (Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images)

Denmark-headquartered global shipping giant Maersk has halted shipping traffic through the Red Sea amid a series of attacks targeting merchant ships in recent weeks.

The decision comes a day after a missile narrowly missed one of the shipping company’s vessels, Maersk Gibraltar, as the container ship transited the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

“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,” a Maersk spokesman said in an emailed statement to NTD News on Friday. “Following the near-miss incident involving Maersk Gibraltar yesterday and yet another attack on a container vessel today, we have instructed all Maersk vessels in the area bound to pass through the Bab al-Mandab Strait to pause their journey until further notice.”

The security situation along the key shipping lane has worsened since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel and the weeks of fighting that have followed in the Gaza Strip. The Shia Islamist Houthi rebel movement in Yemen has begun to direct missile and drone attacks against Israeli ports and has started targeting merchant ships they believe have ties to Israel.

On Nov. 20, Houthi fighters executed a helicopter-borne assault on the Bahamas-flagged cargo ship, MV Galaxy Leader, hijacking the ship in the Red Sea and taking its 25 crew members hostage. More recently, Houthi military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed Houthi responsibility for launching a missile that hit the Norwegian-flagged tanker ship Strinda, which reportedly caused a fire but no casualties.

It remains to be seen how long the pattern of attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden will disrupt Maersk’s traffic in the region.

“Ensuring the safety of our employees is of the utmost importance and our number one priority in handling this challenging situation. We continue to closely monitor the situation retrieving all available intelligence on the security situation in the area,” the Maersk spokesperson added. “We are committed to ensuring the best possible stability of our customers’ supply chains, and we are working closely with all our logistics teams and are taking steps to minimize impacts to customers.”

German Shipping Company Temporarily Pauses Red Sea Shipments

German-headquartered global shipping company Hapag-Lloyd also announced a temporary pause in shipping through the Red Sea after one of its vessels was attacked off the coast of Yemen.

“Hapag-Lloyd is pausing all container ship traffic through the Red Sea until Monday. Then we will decide for the period thereafter,” a company spokesman told NTD News in an emailed statement.

Hapag-Lloyd’s vessel, Al Jasrah, was struck by a projectile believed to be a drone on Friday. The strike caused a fire on the Liberian-flagged vessel, but the Hapag-Lloyd spokesperson said no crew members were injured.

The Hapag-Lloyd spokesperson said the company will take additional measures to secure the safety of their crews.

US Weighing International Security Response

The United States and its allies and partners are considering options to bolster maritime security around the Red Sea, amid the increase in attacks. The United States already participates in a multinational regional security effort known as the Combined Maritime Force.

At a press conference last week, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. side is looking to further “flesh out an already pretty robust Combined Maritime Force” to bolster regional security but insisted the United States is not in a direct conflict with the Houthis at this time.

“We are not in an armed conflict with the Houthis, per se. That said, as I said at the top, we’re going to do what we have to do to protect ourselves, our partners, and merchant shipping. And we’ve done it in the past. We’ll do it again in the future,” Mr. Kirby said.

The Biden administration is currently considering redesignating the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. President Donald Trump labeled the Yemeni group as a terrorist organization in his final days in office, only for President Joe Biden to reverse that policy within weeks of taking office.

The Houthis are a Zaydi Shiite movement that has intermittently fought with Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2004. Their conflict expanded after the Houthis forcefully took over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in September 2014, bringing on an ongoing civil war that has seen Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states intervene on behalf of the Yemeni government. The United States has supported the Saudi-led coalition throughout the conflict, and the U.S. State Department assesses that Iran is supporting the Houthi side in the conflict.

According to Reuters, Iran’s Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani warned this week that any U.S.-led Red Sea task force in the region “will be faced with extraordinary problems.”

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