Maersk halts local ship movements following attack

By Alexander Whiteman 15/12/2023

Maersk has told all vessels intending to pass through the Bab al-Mandab Strait to pause their journey until further notice.

The Strait is at the entrance to the Red Sea, the approach lane to the Suez Canal.

The line told customers: “We are monitoring the situation constantly and retrieving all available intelligence on the security situation in the area. We expect to share more information about any next steps for these paused vessels within the next few days.

“Ensuring the safety of our employees is of the utmost importance and our number one priority in handling this challenging situation. We are also committed to ensuring the stability of our customers’ supply chains, and we are working closely with our logistics teams and taking the necessary steps to minimise the impact on customers.

“We understand the potential impact this will have on your supply chain, but please rest assured that all decisions have been carefully considered by our teams and only implemented to ensure the safety of our vessels, crew and your cargo.”

The move follows the news that Houthi rebels set a Hapag-Lloyd containership ablaze during a series of missile attacks against box ships crossing the Red Sea in the early hours today.

A US defence official told the media repeated strikes on the port side of the 14,993 teu Al Jasrah (above) led to a container going overboard and fire breaking out on deck. No casualties have been reported.

A few hours earlier, the 10,100 teu Maersk Gibraltar survived a near miss after being targeted by a missile close to the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.

The Danish shipping line said: “The recent attacks on commercial vessels in the Bad-al-Mandab Strait are extremely concerning. The current situation puts seafarers’ lives at risk and is unsustainable for global trade.

“As it cannot be solved by the global shipping industry on its own, we call on political action to ensure a swift de-escalation.”

Following the incidents the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) unit said it was investigating the reports and warned vessels in the area to “transit with caution and report any suspicious activity” to the maritime body.

UKMTO issued a separate alert concerning the potential hijacking of a vessel 680 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia – although scant details were available.

Since the onset of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, the number of commercial vessels coming under attack by Iranian-backed proxies has increased. Xeneta’s chief analyst, Peter Sand, warned that continued attacks could precipitate a “global supply chain crisis”.

He said: “We are already seeing ocean freight liner operators and owners choosing to reroute vessels away from the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden region. 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 the East Mediterranean.”