The American subsidiary of Danish shipping behemoth Moller-Maersk has declared a halt to its maritime operations through the Suez Canal and Red Sea. This decision mirrors the action of its parent company and comes in response to repeated assaults by the Houthi movement based in Yemen.
Rising Hostilities in Strategic Waters
The Houthis, a Shia Islamist faction wielding control over significant parts of Yemen, including its capital, Sanaa, have intensified their maritime attacks. These actions, including ship hijackings and strikes, are part of their solidarity campaign with the Palestinians during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. Following intensified military action by the US and UK against Houthi targets in Yemen earlier this month, the group has pledged to broaden their assault scope.
Recent Maritime Confrontations
In a concerning development, two Maersk Line Limited (MLL) vessels – Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake – along with their US Navy escort, faced Houthi cruise missile attacks in the Bab-el-Mandeb strait this Wednesday. The US Central Command (CENTCOM) later confirmed that the vessels remained unharmed in the incident. Contrarily, Houthi spokesperson Yahya Saree asserted that their missile strikes were successful, compelling the ships to retreat.
“The US Navy has turned both ships around and is escorting them back to the Gulf of Aden,” a statement from Maersk read, highlighting the heightened risks that led to MLL’s decision to suspend regional transits indefinitely.
Operational Changes Amidst Safety Concerns
MLL, which manages vessels bearing the US flag and crew, had continued using the Suez route until this recent attack, diverging from its parent company’s earlier suspension of travel through this passage on January 5.
Global Shipping and Economic Implications
The Suez Canal, serving as the quickest maritime link between Asia and Europe, accounts for approximately 15% of global commercial shipping, as per White House data. In light of the Houthi missile threats, numerous leading freight companies are now rerouting around the African coast, facing heightened operational costs and soaring insurance rates.
Broader Military Context
The US-led airstrike campaign in Yemen, designated ‘Operation Poseidon Archer’, is distinct from ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’, initiated earlier to protect commercial vessels in the Red Sea.
Ongoing Houthi Stance
The Houthi movement maintains its commitment to targeting vessels en route to Israel, vowing to persist until what they perceive as aggression ceases and the blockade on Palestinians in Gaza is lifted.
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