Tensions in the Red Sea escalated Friday after Houthi rebels launched attacks on two container ships near the strategically crucial Bab al-Mandeb Strait. The incidents prompted major shipping companies, including Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, to temporarily suspend all Red Sea journeys, raising concerns about potential disruptions to global trade.
One attack, targeting the Liberia-flagged Al-Jasrah, reportedly involved a drone strike that caused a fire but no injuries. Another saw two ballistic missiles land on the MSC Palatium III, igniting a fire the crew is combating. While the Houthis claimed both vessels were heading to Israel, shipping data contradicts this, listing Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as their destination.
This escalation comes amidst the Houthis’ self-declared campaign against Israeli shipping, aimed at pressuring Israel during its recent violence in Gaza. “We will continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports until the food and medicine our people need in the Gaza Strip is brought in,” the Houthi statement said.
The group, however, assures non-Israeli vessels of safe passage if they maintain their identification systems. “We assure all ships heading to all ports of the world apart from Israeli ports that they will suffer no harm and they must keep their identification device on,” it said.
The attacks highlight the growing threat posed by Houthi activity in the Red Sea, a corridor vital for 40% of international trade. This raises concerns about future disruptions to oil and goods shipments, potentially impacting global markets.
In response, major shipping lines like Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd have paused their Red Sea operations until further notice. This precautionary measure reflects the heightened risk for commercial vessels, which lack the defensive capabilities of warships patrolling the area.
The international community is closely monitoring the situation. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan stated the Houthis’ actions threaten freedom of movement in the Red Sea, urging cooperation from regional and global partners to address the issue.
With tensions running high and shipping routes temporarily disrupted, the Red Sea has become a new flashpoint in the ongoing Middle Eastern conflict. The coming days and weeks will be crucial in determining whether a de-escalation can be achieved, and normalcy restored to this vital global trade artery.