A new Middle East war? The US proclaimed naval coalition to protect shipping transit in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait

11:10 20.12.2023 •

Photo: The Cradle

A Danish shipping giant has ordered its vessels to avoid passing through the Red Sea entirely following recent missile attacks on ships launched from Yemen, prompting warnings of 'substantial' supply chain disruption in the lead up to Christmas.

'The recent attacks on commercial vessels in the area are alarming and pose a significant threat to the safety and security of seafarers,' Maersk said in a statement shared with the BBC.

The company said it had told all vessels bound to pass through the Bab al-Mandab Strait to 'pause their journey until further notice'. The 20 mile gap between Yemen and Djibouti is an essential trade route which provides access to the Suez Canal.

Marco Forgione, Director General at the Institute of Export & International Trade, said the news 'could not come at a more difficult time for global supply chains'.

'Attacks on ships in and around Suez, which have led to this move, come at the same time as severe shipping delays through the Panama Canal because of drought. All eyes now will be on other shipping firms to see if they follow suit,' he said.

'Components, commodities, gas and food are all items which come through Suez. That means Brits could be facing shortages of meat from Thailand, nuts from Vietnam or oil from Papua New Guinea.

'This impacts every link in the supply chain, from producer right down to end user, and will only increase the chances of critical products not making their destinations in time for Christmas.'

A projectile believed to be a drone struck the company's Al Jasrah earlier today, causing a fire but no injuries, the U.S. official said.

Two ballistic missiles were fired in a second attack, one of which struck a vessel, causing a fire which the crew was working to extinguish, the official said.

The second vessel hit today was identified as the Swiss-owned MSC Palatium III, a container ship sailing northbound some 23 miles southwest of the Mokha.

British maritime security firm Ambrey also said the Liberia-flagged container ship MSC Alanya was ordered to alter course towards Yemen by people aboard a small craft believed to be members of Yemen's Houthi movement, forcing it take evasive measures.

The US has blamed Houthi rebels fighting a civil war in Yemen for the attacks. The Houthis did not confirm the drone strike on Al Jasrah, but said they did fire on two boats.

The decision to suspend operations could have devastating effects on world trade.

Nearly 10% of all oil traded at sea passes through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, while an estimated one trillion US dollars (£780 billion) in goods pass through the Strait annually.

Avoiding it means taking much longer, slower routes which are inevitably more expensive. Before the Suez Canal was dredged, vessels would have to pass around South Africa to move cargo between Europe and Asia.

A US-led naval coalition is finally coming together to protect international shipping transit in the Red Sea and vital Bab al-Mandab Strait, per a breaking development from Politico's chief Pentagon correspondent: "The Pentagon is expected to announce tomorrow the formation of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a new task force to protect shipping from Houthi attacks in the Bab Al-Mandeb Strait and Red Sea, per DOD official,".

"The operation will be within the framework of the existing Combined Maritime Force 153, a partnership of 39 nations focused on counter piracy and counter terrorism in the Red Sea."

Soon after this reporting, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, "I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces and the leadership of its Task Force 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea."


read more in our Telegram-channel https://t.me/The_International_Affairs