Maersk Suspends Red Sea Shipping After Iran-Backed Houthi Attacks

Markus Scholz/picture alliance via Getty Images

The Maersk shipping company on Friday suspended shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait “until further notice” after the Iran-backed Houthi terrorists of Yemen launched a string of attacks against commercial vessels in the area.

“Following the near-miss incident involving Maersk Gibraltar yesterday and yet another attack on a container vessel today, we have instructed all Maersk vessels in the area bound to pass through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait to pause their journey until further notice,” Maersk said in a statement to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“The recent attacks on commercial vessels in the area are alarming and pose a significant threat to the safety and security of seafarers,” the statement said.

Houthi forces board the cargo ship ‘Galaxy Leader’ on November 19, 2023. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

The “near-miss incident” referred to in the statement was a Houthi missile attack against one of Maersk’s container ships while en route from Oman to Saudi Arabia.

On Friday, the Houthis attacked another Maersk ship with a drone. The Houthi terrorists claimed their strike was a “direct hit,” while Maersk said in a Friday email that “the vessel was not hit.”

Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree said the Maersk Gibraltar was targeted with a missile because it “refused to respond to the calls of the Yemeni naval services.” 

The Iran-backed insurgents are not the legitimate government or navy of Yemen and have no authority to interdict shipping in the Red Sea.

Saree said attacks on shipping would continue in response to “oppression of the Palestinian people.”

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed a missile was fired at the Maersk Gibraltar on Thursday after the ship was “hailed by Houthis.”

“While this incident did not involve U.S. Forces, we continue to closely monitor the situation,” CENTCOM said.

The BBC noted that “about 17,000 ships and 10% of global trade” pass through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait every year, including all ships using the Suez Canal to access the Indian Ocean. Using alternate shipping routes would force ships to take much longer routes, significantly increasing shipping costs.

A.P. Moller-Maersk, based in Copenhagen, is one of the world’s largest shipping companies. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Friday that German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd instructed some of its ships to “pause and drift outside the strait” after an unidentified object hit a Hapag-Lloyd ship on Friday.

“It’s very worrisome because ships heading to the Suez have to pass through the strait. We are stopping some ships, but there is no general rule yet, though this could change,” Hapag-Lloyd spokesman Nils Haupt told the WSJ.

Houthis Yemen Israel Palestinians

A Houthi forces helicopter approaches the cargo ship ‘Galaxy Leader’ on November 19, 2023. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

The Biden administration said on Thursday it is working to assemble the “broadest possible” coalition of naval forces to secure Red Sea shipping. The administration did not indicate with which other nations it has been consulting.

Iran threatened that any such defensive coalition would be “irrational” and would face “extraordinary problems” because Tehran has military “predominance” in the region.

The Houthis are a jihadi movement that calls itself “Ansar Allah,” the Army of Allah. Its slogan is “Allahu Akbar, Death to the United States, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory for Islam.” President Joe Biden lifted Ansar Allah’s classification as a terrorist organization in February 2021.


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