US Tries to Persuade Shippers to Sail Red Sea Despite Houthi Attacks

The US military is trying to reassure shipping companies that a multinational force is making it safe to sail through the Red Sea and Suez Canal even though attacks from Yemen-based Houthi rebels show no sign of stopping.

The Pentagon is “engaged with industry on a near-daily basis to gauge needs and provide reassurance that the international community is there to help with safe passage,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Bryon McGarry, a Defense Department spokesperson for the Middle East and Africa, said Thursday in an emailed response to questions.

So far, that’s not proving enough for most shipping lines to gamble that a drone or missile aimed at their vessels won’t be one that gets past the defenses.

“It will take a little while for shippers to get a sense about the security situation,” said Mark Cancian, a retired Marine officer and senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “If it turns out that the US and the coalition can maintain safe passage, then I think they’ll come back. But right now they really can’t be sure.”

Shippers Looking for More Security in Red Sea, Cancian said in an interview that some shippers will remain “more risk-averse than others. Ones that have connections with Israel might be more reticent.”

The Houthis, who are backed by Iran, have said they’re targeting ships linked to Israel to show support for Palestinians, though ships without direct links to Israel also have been singled out.

On Thursday, the USS Mason, a guided missile destroyer, shot down a missile and a drone over the southern Red Sea, according to US Central Command. “There was no damage to any of the 18 ships in the area or reported injuries,” Central Command said in a Thursday night post on X, the former Twitter.

Half of the container-ship fleet that regularly transits the Red Sea and Suez Canal is avoiding the route now because of the threat of attacks, according to new industry data. Many tankers and container ships are resorting to the longer — and costlier — route around the southern tip of Africa, which may lead to higher prices for oil and a variety of consumer goods.

A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, the world’s No. 2 container line, said it’s preparing to resume Red Sea passages “as soon as operationally possible.” But even Maersk has cautioned that “the overall risk is not eliminated in the area,” and the company said it would “not hesitate” to re-evaluate the safety situation for its vessels and employees.

Costs may also rise for some firms that stick to the Rea Sea route. The shipping industry in Denmark, where Maersk is based, agreed to double wages for crew sailing through the high-risk area.

Meanwhile, Hapag-Lloyd AG said it would continue to divert ships and make its next assessment of the situation on Jan. 2.

Gene Moran, a defense analyst and retired Navy captain, once commanded the USS Laboon, the destroyer that shot down four drones in the Red Sea Saturday. From his perspective, the shipping companies are still looking for the American-led coalition to do more.

“This method doesn’t appear to address the cause of the threat,” Moran said in an interview. “The Houthis are able to operate from the uncontrolled portions of Yemen. Something will need to be done about that. We seem to be moving very gingerly when the conditions seem to call for a more forceful response.”

But the Biden administration has been reluctant to take action that could turn Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip — which began after that group’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel — into a broader regional conflict. Shipping companies may share that concern.

“If the United States were to start shooting at Houthi camps, that would arguably increase the risk, not decrease it,” Cancian said. “So I don’t think the shippers are particularly anxious to start that.”

The Pentagon has said the Red Sea security initiative it’s leading — named Operation Prosperity Guardian — brings together forces from the UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Seychelles, Spain, Australia and Greece as well as some other nations that don’t want to be named. Yet the military hasn’t spelled out details of how it will operate.

Major General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said earlier this month that the coalition will function as a “highway patrol” in the sea.

Moran said that the mixed nature of the threat, which includes potential attacks from drones, missiles and small boats, makes it more challenging to respond because not all the ships participating in the force will have the same capabilities as the US ships.

For now, the operation will continue indefinitely.

“We are not putting a timeline on this operation,” said McGarry, the Pentagon spokesperson. “We’ll stand firm with our partners in the region for as long as it takes until the threat to international shipping in these waterways has ceased.”

— With assistance from Wilfried Eckl-Dorna

Source: Bloomberg

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Indian Navy ‘Chases’ Hijacked Ship In The Arabian Sea As Somali Pirates Strike After 6 Years

By Vaishali Basu Sharma

On Dec 14, the Malta-flagged 41,600-dwt MV Ruen was boarded and hijacked by unknown assailants in the Arabian Sea, sailing towards the Somali coast. MV Ruen’s manager is from Bulgaria-based company Navigation Maritime Bulgare (Navibulgar), and the vessel was boarded off the Yemeni island of Socotra by unknown assailants.

This led to initial speculation that the incident could be related to Houthi rebel activity in nearby Yemen. Later, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov qualified the hijacking of the vessel as “a case of piracy,” confirming the resurgence of Somali piracy in the Arabian Sea.

MV Ruen is a Bulk Carrier that was built in 2016 (7 years ago) and is sailing under the flag of Malta.

Britain’s maritime body received an alert from a ship security officer who believed the crew no longer had control of the vessel last seen in the open sea sailing towards Somalia.

According to the ship-tracking data, a local source claimed that six pirates took control of the ship, which was rerouted to the coast of eastern Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in northeastern Somalia.

It has been confirmed that the tracking system of the merchant vessel has been disabled, and last, it was heading towards Somalia. After initial reports that the hijacked ship was being taken toward Puntland, reports later indicated that the hijackers in Mogadishu were taking the vessel. However, Somali maritime authorities have not verified the claims.

This is the first successful hijacking by Somali pirates since 2017, when a crackdown by international navies stemmed from piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

EU naval operations headquarters based in Spain sent a navy ship to try and respond to the reports. The Spanish worship Victoria has been sent to this scene to investigate and evaluate the action.

In a recent post on microblogging platform X, the European Union naval force announced, “Based on first information available on MV Ruen #OperationAtlanta flagship ESPS #Victoria is proceeding fast towards the alleged pirate hijacked vessel to gain more awareness and evaluate following actions also in coordination with @CMF_Bahrain.”

But it was the Indian Navy that promptly responded to the distress call from the Malta flag commercial vessel named MV Ruen. The Indian navy’s guided missile destroyer INS Kochi is near the hijacked vessel, as per the latest reports.

In an official statement, the Indian Navy reported, “Indian Navy’s mission deployed platforms responded swiftly to a maritime incident in the Arabian sea involving the hijacking of Malta-flagged vessel MV Ruen. The vessel with 18 crew on board had sent a mayday message on the UK MTO portal on December 14 indicating boarding by approximately 6 unknown personnel.”

Responding to the emergency, the Indian Navy swiftly diverted its naval maritime patrol aircraft undertaking surveillance in the area reports reveal that the Indian Navy deployed warships on and the piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden to locate and assist MV Ruen.

The aircraft overflew the hijacked vessel on the early morning of December 15, with continuous monitoring revealing that the ship was now heading towards the coast of Somalia.

Continuing its vigilance efforts, the Indian Navy’s warship intercepted MV Ruen in the early hours of December 16. Emphasizing that they are closely monitoring the situation in coordination with other agencies, the Indian Navy affirmed its commitment to be a first responder in the region, ensuring the safety of merchant shipping in collaboration with international partners and friendly foreign countries.

The Japanese and Spanish warships had joined the pursuit of the hijacked vessel. While the Japanese destroyer JMSDF Akebono later withdrew from the operation, the status of the Spanish warship is unknown.

The European Union’s naval force EUNAVFOR said the incident was still ongoing. EUNAVFOR was in “close collaboration with the Somali local authorities.” it added that it was “coordinating efforts for a comprehensive follow-up and sharing of information.”

Interestingly, on December 1, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution lifting the arms embargo on the Federal Government of Somalia. The lifting of the arms embargo comes at a time when Somali pirates have resorted to significant hijacking after a several-year hiatus.

This has indeed created pressure on the Somali authorities to protect the territorial waters from piracy, which is a threat to international peace and this shipping route, which is significant to international trade.

This hijacking incident came when the Somali government was calling for an end to the International Maritime Force, which was based along the Somali coast, to provide assistance to container ships in the unfortunate event of a piracy attack and reassure shipping companies.

Maritime piracy threatens multiple maritime domains—including defense, commerce, fishing, seabed mineral resources, laws governing navigation, and sea-based transportation. The possibility of Somalia’s jihadist al-Shabab to maritime piracy cannot be ruled out.

Cargo vessels and tankers, which have become larger and more automated, are increasingly sailing under flags of convenience with smaller multinational crews. Pirates resort to powerful engines intended for larger vessels on small craft, enabling them to escape from slower warships. Pirates can accurately determine their positions using satellite navigation systems, greatly encouraging close teamwork and precise operations.

Meanwhile, with MV Ruen’s crew held hostage, options for rescue are limited, as an armed intervention could risk the lives of the crew. Direct military action against the hijackers is considered remote since it would carry the risk of collateral damage.

Source: The EurAsian Times

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Incident in the vicinity of Eyl

UKMTO has received a report of an incident in the vicinity of Eyl. Authorities investigating. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO. 

Source: UKMTO

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Red Sea Chaos Has Shippers Bracing for Weeks Without Key Trade Route

The global shipping industry is bracing for the prospect of living without its most important trade route for weeks.

Even as the US works to pull together a task force to stop Houthi militants in Yemen from attacking commercial vessels, shippers are still waiting for details, and worry about implementation. The Houthis are attacking ships to show support for Hamas in its war against Israel, and some in the region worry that too forceful a response will only escalate the violence.

So shippers are sending vessels the long way around Africa, adding $1 million in costs — and seven to 10 days — to each voyage. Oil prices are creeping higher.

The attacks have created potentially a worse — and more enduring — shipping emergency than the Suez Canal shutdown in 2021, when a ship stuck for a week snarled global trade for months. As vessels hauling everything from oil to grains to autos are forced to sail around Africa, the extra costs and delays pose risks to the global economy, just as inflation looked set to be cooling.

“It could be anything between, hopefully, days or weeks but of course there are also scenarios to think about when it takes longer,” Rolf Habben Jansen, chief executive of German container carrier Hapag-Lloyd, which has stopped sailing the Red Sea, told Bloomberg TV.

For captains and companies, even the possible fixes pose problems. Naval convoys shepherding ships through the perilous stretch of water could offer some protection, but it’s not straightforward.

“It will slow down the trade because we will have to wait for a convoy to pass through” the region, Euronav NV Chief Executive Officer Alexander Saverys said in an interview with Bloomberg TV. The oil tanker giant has halted all shipments via the Red Sea and won’t go back until such military escorts are in place.

The Pentagon hasn’t yet detailed how the so-called Operation Prosperity Guardian will protect ships. Vincent Clerc, the chief executive of container shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, reckons it will take a few weeks for the task force to become operational.

Loose convoys, or group transits, which follow a certain route have been used in the past when Somali piracy was an issue, according to Jakob Paaske Larsen, head of maritime safety and security at shipping industry group Bimco. It’s also possible to try and secure a broad area and deploy military units according to the situation, he said.

A strict convoy — where military ships escort vessels — is probably less likely as “it’s so resource-intensive,” Larsen said. “I just don’t think that there will be enough warships.”

The US-led coalition that is participating in Operation Prosperity Guardian includes only a handful of European Union countries. Spain has said its involvement is subject to EU and NATO decisions, state news wire EFE reported Tuesday, citing the ministry of defense.

Washington has also asked Australia to join, a request essentially rebuffed by the government in Canberra.

Those details may delay the time it takes for the security situation to be brought under control, said Munro Anderson, head of operations at marine war risk and insurance specialist Vessel Protect.

“Commercial operators are only going to return to the area where they can be assured of the effectiveness of security provisions being implemented,” he said. “With the latest announcement it is hard to see how this is being achieved.”

Source: Bloomberg

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Incident 80 nm North East of Djibouti

UKMTO has received a report of an incident 80 nm North East of Djibouti. Authorities are investigating. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO. 

Source: UKMTO

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Incident 24 nm South East of Port Mokha, Yemen 

UKMTO has received a report of an incident 24nm South East of port Mokha, Yemen. Master reports one craft with several armed personnel onboard was approaching the vessel at position 13°09’N 043°30’E. Warning shots were fired by vessel AST to the craft’s side. Craft changed course away from the vessel. Authorities are investigating.

Source: UKMTO

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Incident 63 nm North West of Djibouti

UKMTO has received a report of an attempted attack in the vicinity 63 nm North West of Djibouti. Vessel was approached by five (5) small boats containing armed personnel. The attempted attack was likely deterred by nearby coalition forces. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO. 

Source: UKMTO

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Incident 63 nm North West of Djibouti

UKMTO has received a report of an incident in the vicinity 63 nm North West of Djibouti. Authorities are investigating. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO. 

Source: UKMTO

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Hijack 680nm east of Bosaso, Somalia.

UKMTO has received a report from the Company Security Officer who believes the crew no longer has control of the vessel. Vessel is currently heading towards Somalia, approximately 680nm east of Bosaso, Somalia. At present all crew are reported as safe. Vessels advised to exercise caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO. 

Source: UKMTO

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Incident 90 nm South of Al Duqm.

UKMTO has received a report that a vessel 90 nm South of Al Duqm, was followed by 5-6 small boats for approx. 90 minutes. The small boats had 3 POB and appeared to be in grey uniforms. The small boats had a machine gun mounted on the bow. Master reports the small boats had powerful outboards which can likely attain 25knts. The small boats came to within 6-8 Cables. Area is now cleared, vessel and crew are safe.

Source: UKMTO

Incident 50 nm West of Port Hodeidah, Yemen. 

UKMTO has received a report of an incident in the vicinity of the Bab El Mandeb, 50nm West of Port of Hodeidah, Yemen. Authorities investigating. Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO.

Source: UKMTO

Missile attack at 13°06’N 043°03’E.

UKMTO has received a report of missile attack at 13°06’N 043°03’E. Military authorities are providing assistance to the affected vessel. Vessel and all crew are safe. Mariners are advised to exercise caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO.

Source: UKMTO

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