U.S. Considers Strikes on Houthis as Fifth Company Halts Red Sea Transports

Over the past twenty four hours, five logistics companies have halted transit of their ships in the Red Sea after dozens of missile and drone attacks originating from Yemen targeted commercial vessels. At least one vessel has also been seized, while four others were diverted by pirates.

Yesterday, Maersk was the first company to instruct its entire fleet to use alternative routes than the Red Sea. Two hours later, German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd also instructed its fleet to avoid the Red Sea, specifically the Bab Al-Mandan Strait. The Belgian oil shipping company Euronav also announced yesterday that all of its ships will be given the option for ship’s crew to select alternate routes away from the Red Sea.

Today at 1000 EST,  the Mediterranean Shipping Company announced diversions of all shipments from the Suez Canal. Their announcement reads below:

“On 15 December 2023 the container ship MSC PALATIUM III was attacked at approximately 09.37 UTC while transiting the Red Sea under sub charter to Messina Line. All crew are safe with no reported injuries, meanwhile the vessel suffered limited fire damage and has been taken out of service.

Due to this incident and to protect the lives and safety of our seafarers, until the Red Sea passage is safe, MSC ships will not transit the Suez Canal Eastbound and Westbound. Already now, some services will be rerouted to go via the Cape of Good Hope instead.

This disruption will impact the sailing schedules by several days of vessels booked for Suez transit. We ask for your understanding under these serious circumstances.”

Following this announcement, CMA CGM instructed its ships to halt their scheduled trips through the Red Sea and return to “safe areas”. Their announcement reads below:

”The CMA CGM Group is deeply concerned about the recent attacks on commercial vessels unfolding in the Red Sea Region. We have been  taking over the past days increasing prevention  measures to ensure the safety of our vessels and their crews navigating these waters. The situation is further deteriorating and concern of safety is increasing. 

As such we have decided to instruct all CMA CGM containerships in the area that are scheduled to pass through the Red Sea to reach safe areas and pause their journey in safe waters with immediate effect until further notice.”

All of these announcements, and previous attacks on U.S. Navy vessels have apparently altered decision making calculus at the highest levels of the American military. According to Semafor, Biden administration officials at the Pentagon are weighing strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen to degrade the groups ability to impact international trade and inflame regional tensions further.

This report comes less than six hours after the HMS Diamond confirmed it has intercepted several drones from Yemen, making it the third Western nation to destroy Houthi projectiles targeting civilian shipping. Both the U.S. and French vessels have made successful intercepts. Most notably, vessels from the Chinese Naval Escort Task Force, assigned to patrol waters near its naval base in Djibouti, have not aided international shipping. This reluctance or inability to aid international shipping is yet another indicator that Chinese naval presence in the key strait serve ulterior motives than ensuring freedom of navigation for international vendors.

The redirection of hundreds of shipping vessels to the Cape of Good Hope is sure to significantly raise prices as the longer route takes longer and requires more fuel.

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Ethan Alun
Ethan Alun
A United States Naval Academy and American Military University Alumni, Ethan covers flash military, intelligence, and geo-political updates.
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