There's been yet another Houthi attack on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, in at least the third serious incident this week, prompting container shipping giant Maersk to order any of its vessels near the southern entrance of the Red Sea to immediately halt their voyages.
"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 al-Mandab Strait to pause their journey until further notice," the Danish international liner confirmed Friday, per Bloomberg.
In this latest incident, ballistic missiles and a drone were fired from Houthi held territory in Yemen and struck a Liberian-flagged cargo ship near the Bab El-Mandeb Strait, according to a Pentagon official. A second vessel in the same area also came under attack close in time to the first.
According to breaking details relayed in Reuters:
A Houthi statement subsequently identified that the MSC Alanya and MSC Palatium III were the targeted vessels in the attack. It's unclear whether they are Israeli-linked, however it is clear that the vessels were sailing the direction of Israeli ports when they were struck. US Navy and other coalition warships are reportedly en route to assist the damaged ships - with potential casualties unknown at this point.
The impact of this fresh pair of attacks has been felt immediately by markets (note: rerouting of traditional routes means chaos as buyers need to scramble to ensure they have priority to new routes, and this in turn leads to surge in charter rates and boost to shipper revenues), per Bloomberg:
- Shipping stocks extend their surge as Maersk tells its vessels in the Red Sea area to pause their journeys, following recent militant attacks on merchant ships. The attacks have raised fears of disruptions to container shipping.
- AP Moller-Maersk rises as much as 8.8%, Hapag-Lloyd 18%, ZIM Integrated Shipping +13%
Unconfirmed video from one of the new attacks:
BREAKING: YEMENI HOUTHI FORCES ATTACKS ISRAEL BOUND SHIP IN RED SEA pic.twitter.com/8dUXeZiHIc— Sulaiman Ahmed (@ShaykhSulaiman) December 15, 2023
Crucially, Maersk has now confirmed that its tankers will avoid the Red Sea altogether. This directive has reportedly already been sent out. As of late last month, the Maersk exodus had already begun:
Ships with links to Israel are diverting in greater numbers from the Red and Arabian Seas following a series of attacks over the past 11 days by Houthis, Iranians and Somalis.
Danish liner giant Maersk became the latest big name to announce that a pair of its ships on charter – Lisa and Maersk Pagani – will be diverted with cargoes discharged in the United Arab Emirates resulting in delays of more than a week.
“This decision has been made with careful consideration of various factors, prioritizing the safety of crew, the vessel, and your cargo,” Maersk stated in an advisory to clients.
Iran is meanwhile warning against a Western naval coalition in the Red Sea. But already US and other warships have increased their presence in regional waters, with the US Navy especially directly engaging Houthi projectiles. The incidents are becoming more frequent, as the several significant hostile encounters this week. Indeed the threats to international shipping are becoming daily.
🚨 JUST IN: Shipping Giant Halts Red Sea Voyages Amid Heightened Security Risks from Houthis— Mario Nawfal (@MarioNawfal) December 15, 2023
- A.P. Moller-Maersk instructs ships to cease voyages through the southern entrance of the Red Sea
- Decision follows an attack on one of Maersk's vessels and escalating risks from… pic.twitter.com/wdNP1GpKvh
Robabank comments on the rapidly escalating situation in Mideast regional waters as follows...
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Meanwhile, in the Middle East, it’s oil and water which matter. Especially as Yemen’s Houthis have officially announced they will attack Israeli vessels and any ships carrying cargo to or from Israel via the Red Sea or Arabian Gulf. Welcome to how the world used to work before British, then US, naval supremacy. This is what a multipolar world is going to look like, if we see one.
We are likely to get a US naval reaction. Combined Task Force 153 Operations was set up in 2022 to stop Red Sea piracy, but will need to be expanded from the US and Egypt: France already helped out last weekend by shooting down Yemeni drones aimed at Israel. Yet it’s still only reactive to attacks on shipping, not proactive at the source.
That maintains the risk shipping diverts from Suez round the Cape of Good Hope: if so, global carriers would only be able to make 3-4 Asia-Europe roundtrips per year, not 4-5, a massive structural drop in supply capacity. The Financial Times warns ‘Global pre-Christmas Trade at risk from twin Canal crises’, including the drought in Panama cutting passages there. But it’s far more than just pre-Christmas trade at risk.
Indeed, we are likely to get an Israeli reaction to this Yemeni (slash Iranian) casus belli to stop it at source; and Israel is also close to establishing a fixed deadline for Hezbollah to retreat north of the Litani river, after which it will attack them south of it. In short, key dominoes could yet topple towards a regional escalation impacting both the Suez Canal and energy markets.
Meanwhile, in a sign of a likely coming Iran-US naval clash...