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Dhaka Tribune

Shipping firms suspend Red Sea traffic after Yemen rebel strikes

  • The maritime tensions have added to fears that the Gaza conflict could spread
  • The Houthis have declared themselves part of the Iran-affiliated groups
Update : 16 Dec 2023, 11:47 PM

Two of the world’s largest shipping firms, Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, said Friday they were suspending passage through a Red Sea strait vital for global commerce, after Yemeni rebel attacks in the area.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of Yemen but are not recognized internationally, say they’re targeting shipping to pressure Israel during its two-month-old war with Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

The maritime tensions have added to fears that the Gaza conflict could spread.

German transport company Hapag-Lloyd said it was halting Red Sea container ship traffic until December 18, after the Houthis attacked one of its vessels.

The Danish firm Maersk made a similar announcement, a little earlier.

Vessel seized

A Hapag-Lloyd spokesman told AFP: “There has been an attack on one of our ships.”

It was en route from the Greek port of Piraeus to Singapore. There were no casualties and the ship was travelling onward to its destination, he added.

Later in the day during a pro-Palestinian rally in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, the rebels said they attacked two other ships in the area.

“Container ships MSC Palatium and MSC Alanya were targeted by two naval missiles as they were heading toward the Israeli entity,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a broadcast on the rebels’ television channel.

The rebels said that, in an earlier attack, the Maersk Gibraltar vessel was “targeted with a drone and the hit was direct”. According to a US official, the missile missed.

Saree said the attack came after the ship’s crew “refused to respond to the calls of the Yemeni naval services”, and that it was intended as retaliation for the “oppression of the Palestinian people”.

On Tuesday, they claimed responsibility for a missile strike on a Norwegian-flagged tanker.

Last month, they seized an Israel-linked cargo vessel, the Galaxy Leader, and its 25 international crew members.

Oil, gas route

Asked at a press conference in Oslo about the potential for broader conflict after the Houthi attacks, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said: “Our region is very complex and we do not need any other conflicts to erupt.”

A Saudi-led military coalition has for years backed the Yemeni government against the Houthis, but a United Nations-brokered ceasefire has largely held since expiring over a year ago.

The attack on the Al-Jasrah occurred near Bab al-Mandab, the narrow strait between Yemen and northeast Africa through which around 20,000 ships pass annually.

The area leads to the Red Sea, Israel’s southern port facilities and the Suez Canal, making it part of a strategic route for Gulf oil and natural gas shipments.

The Houthis have declared themselves part of the “axis of resistance” of Iran-affiliated groups.

Western warships are patrolling the area and have shot down Houthi missiles and drones several times.

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