AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST – Leading container lines Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd have suspended voyages through the Red Sea due to a series of recent attacks on shipping by Houthi forces.

Incidents involving vessels operated by these lines, alongside one by Mediterranean Shipping Co, have prompted this immediate action.

Maersk’s spokesperson informed Lloyd’s List about the decision following a near-miss involving Maersk Gibraltar (IMO: 9739692) and another attack on a container vessel.

“Ensuring the safety of our employees is of utmost importance,” a Maersk spokesman stated, highlighting the pause in journeys through the Bab el Mandeb Strait.

They’ve instructed all Maersk vessels traversing the Bab el Mandeb Strait to pause their journeys until further notice, prioritizing employee safety and closely monitoring the area’s security situation.

The recent attack targeted Hapag-Lloyd’s 15,000 TEU Al Jasrah (IMO: 9732321), resulting in a fire onboard. Despite this, there have been no reported casualties.

The incident occurred in the Red Sea after a projectile, suspected to be a drone, struck the vessel’s port side. The attack led to a container falling overboard and ignited a fire on deck.

Hapag-Lloyd’s spokesperson confirmed the attack on Al Jasrah, stating their vessel had been attacked near the coast of Yemen.

They assured additional measures would be taken to safeguard crew safety, leading to the halt of all further passages through the Bab el Mandeb over the weekend.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported another attack on the 2,500 TEU MSC Palatium III (IMO: 9336165), allegedly hit by a missile while en-route to Jeddah. The vessel reversed its course and is currently moving south towards the Gulf of Aden.

The International Chamber of Shipping urged influential states in the region to intervene and prevent Houthi attacks, emphasizing the threat to global trade.

Concerns were raised about the impact on Suez Canal traffic, as the escalating situation prompted companies to consider rerouting around the Cape of Good Hope, causing cost and delay increases in global trade.

Xeneta’s chief analyst, Peter Sand, emphasized the potential consequences for global supply chains if the attacks persisted.

“I do not believe the Suez Canal will close, however, if there are further significant escalations then we cannot rule it out, even if it is just for a few days,” he said.

He warned of possible diversions from the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, highlighting the significant disruptions caused by the closure of the Suez Canal following the Ever Given casualty in 2021.

“Supply chains were plunged into chaos and it took months to restore order,” Sand said. “The ocean freight industry has been deeply scarred by Ever Given and is frankly terrified of any situation that threatens the closure of the Suez Canal.”

While the situation continues to unfold, the fear of potential closure of the Suez Canal looms, with operators and owners already considering alternative routes to safeguard shipments amidst rising concerns over the safety of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden region.

For all the latest fresh produce industry news updates from Africa, the Middle East, and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.