Shipping giant Maersk announced on Friday a strategic shift in its shipping routes in response to recent attacks on its merchant ships by Yemeni rebels, opting to divert all vessels around Africa instead of using the Red Sea and Suez Canal for the “foreseeable future.” The Danish company emphasized the highly volatile situation in the region and highlighted the persistently high security risks.
“We have therefore decided that all Maersk vessels due to transit the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden will be diverted south around the Cape of Good Hope for the foreseeable future,” Maersk stated in a press release.
This decision comes in the wake of an attack on the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou, prompting Maersk to temporarily halt shipping through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. The container vessel, en route from Singapore to Port Suez in Egypt, reported being struck by a missile while transiting the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Subsequently, it was attacked by four ships operated by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who engaged in gunfire in an attempt to board the vessel. The U.S. military intervened, sinking three of the rebel-operated ships, while the fourth fled the scene.
Since November 18, there have been 25 reported attacks on commercial vessels in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. In response, a coalition of 12 nations, led by the U.S., jointly called for an immediate end to the “illegal attacks” by Yemen’s Houthi rebels and demanded the release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews, warning of potential consequences.
The Red Sea is a critical waterway, accounting for 12% of world trade, linking the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and connecting Europe to Asia. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) underscores its importance as a “crucial waterway.” Additionally, the Suez Canal, through which approximately 20,000 ships pass annually, serves as a vital gateway for vessels entering and leaving the region.
This marks the second time Maersk has suspended shipping through the strait due to security concerns, underscoring the challenges faced by major shipping companies navigating through geopolitically sensitive areas. The company’s decision to reroute vessels around Africa reflects a proactive measure to mitigate security risks and ensure the safety of its fleet amidst the escalating tensions in the region.