Houthi militants’ Red Sea attacks disrupt global trade: Maersk halts sailing

While over 20 countries agreed to participate in safeguarding ships in the Red Sea near Yemen, Maersk had initially announced on December 24 that it would resume sailings through the Red Sea.

Houthi militants targeted a Maersk container vessel, the Maersk Hangzhou, with missiles and small boats, compelling Maersk to suspend all Red Sea sailings for 48 hours. The incident occurred approximately 55 nautical miles southwest of Al Hodeidah, Yemen. The crew of the Maersk Hangzhou is safe, and the vessel remains fully manoeuvre without any indication of onboard fires.

These attacks are part of an ongoing series by Houthi militants in Yemen, demonstrating their support for the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, currently engaged in conflict with Israel in Gaza. The repercussions extend beyond the immediate safety concerns, significantly disrupting world trade.

Major shipping companies are opting for the longer and costlier route around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, bypassing the Suez Canal, which handles approximately 12% of global trade and plays a vital role in the movement of goods between Asia and Europe.

The United States responded to these security challenges by launching Operation Prosperity Guardian on December 19. While over 20 countries agreed to participate in safeguarding ships in the Red Sea near Yemen, Maersk had initially announced on December 24 that it would resume sailings through the Red Sea. However, the attacks persisted, and reluctance among U.S. allies to publicly commit to the coalition remains apparent, with nearly half not declaring their presence.

In a bid to protect vessels navigating the Red Sea, a U.S. warship reportedly intercepted two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, according to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Despite these efforts, the Maersk Hangzhou faced another attack on Sunday, this time by Houthi militants in four small boats. The vessel’s security team, aided by helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely in response to distress calls, successfully repelled the attackers. Three of the militant boats were sunk, with no survivors, while the fourth fled the area.

The strategic significance of the Red Sea, being the entry point for ships utilizing the Suez Canal, underscores the global impact of these attacks. As maritime trade continues to be disrupted, some vessels are rerouting to the much longer East-West route via the southern tip of Africa.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron weighed in on the situation, expressing concern and emphasizing Iran’s role in preventing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Cameron noted that Iran shares responsibility due to its longstanding support for the Houthis and emphasized the threats posed by these attacks to innocent lives and the global economy.

As nations around the world confront these pressing challenges on the global stage,  the resilience of global trade faces a severe test, with the hope that coordinated efforts will bring stability back to this crucial maritime route.