SHIPPING companies are rerouting vessel traffic away from the Suez Canal and the Red Sea following more attacks on commercial ships.

There has been a surge in attacks since Yemen’s Houthi militia broadened a threat to target Israel-affiliated ships to include all ships sailing to Israel.

In the past few days, attacks from Houthi-controlled Yemen struck Hapag-Lloyd’s Al Jasrah and MSC Palatium III, which are both Liberian-flagged containerships.

Other vessels such as Maersk Gibraltar were targeted without being hit, according to Reuters.

MSC confirmed over the weekend that MSC Palatium III was attacked while transiting the Red Sea under a sub charter to Messina Line.

“All crew are safe with no reported injuries, meanwhile the vessel suffered limited fire damage and has been taken out of service,” MSC said in a statement.

“Due to this incident and to protect the lives and safety of our seafarers, until the Red Sea passage is safe, MSC ships will not transit the Suez Canal Eastbound and Westbound. Already now, some services will be rerouted to go via the Cape of Good Hope instead.

“This disruption will impact the sailing schedules by several days of vessels booked for Suez transit. We ask for your understanding under these serious circumstances.”

A spokesperson for Maersk told Reuters the Danish shipping giant would pause all container shipments through the Red Sea following the “near miss” involving Maersk Gibraltar.

“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 company said in a statement cited by Reuters.

CMA CGM on Sunday said its concerns for safety are also growing as the situation deteriorates.

“We have been taking over the past days increasing prevention measures to ensure the safety of our vessels and their crews navigating these waters,” it said.

“As such we have decided to instruct all CMA CGM containerships in the area that are scheduled to pass through the Red Sea to reach safe areas and pause their journey in safe waters with immediate effect until further notice.”

The cost of the threat

Shipping intelligence platform Xeneta believes the missile and drone attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden could trigger a global supply-chain crisis.

“All ships transiting the Suez Canal must sail through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden and the Houthi militia has made clear that any vessel is a target,” Xeneta chief analyst Peter Sand said.

“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.”

Mr Sand recalled the Ever Given incident in the Suez Canal in 2021 and its consequences for supply chains.

“The ocean freight industry has been deeply scarred by Ever Given and is frankly terrified of any situation which threatens the closure of the Suez Canal.”

Xeneta said more than 50 vessels transit the Suez Canal every day, carrying billions of dollars of goods to North Europe, Mediterranean and North America East Coast.

Mr Sand noted the ongoing restrictions in the Panama Canal due to drought.

“We are already seeing ocean freight liner operators and owners choosing to reroute vessels away from the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden region,” Mr Sand said.

“Due to the importance of the Suez Canal to global supply chains, even a small disruption can have big consequences.

“The main alternative is to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, which adds up to 10 days sailing time for services from Asia to North Europe and East Mediterranean.

“We may also see the cost of moving freight by ocean increase dramatically. Depending on the scale and duration of any disruption at the Suez Canal, we could see ocean freight shipping rates increase by anything up to 100%.”

Concern for crews

The International Chamber of Shipping also denounced the attacks against merchant ships, highlighting the consequences for crews.

“These are unacceptable acts of aggression which threaten the lives of innocent seafarers and the safety of merchant shipping,” ICS said.

“These attacks are a flagrant breach of international law. States with influence in the region should, as a matter of urgency, work to stop the actions of the Houthis in attacking seafarers and merchant ships, and de-escalate what is now an extremely serious threat to international trade.”

ICS said industry is “extremely concerned” about the attacks and is “understood to be considering additional actions” which could see more ships being rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope.

The World Shipping Council said it was “deeply alarmed and concerned” about the escalating security crisis in the Red Sea region.

“The disturbing surge of attacks on vessels poses an imminent threat to the safety and lives of the seafarers navigating these waters,” it said.

“The right of freedom of navigation stands as a fundamental right under international law and must be safeguarded.

“The World Shipping Council urgently calls upon the global community to take decisive action to protect seafarers and freedom of navigation.”