Cargo Ship Traffic in Red Sea is Disrupted
Since start of 2024, in red sea as many as 370 container ships are estimated to have re-routed around Africa due to Hothi drones.
Houthi militants, who control swathes of Yemen, have used an array of sophisticated weapons – including ballistic missiles and “kamikaze” drones – in their attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea.
The attacks began on Nov. 19 on the Galaxy Leader cargo vessel as it was passing through the southern Red Sea. They redirected it toward Hodeidah port in Yemen and seized the crew, who are still being held.
Since then, 29 more ships have been attacked in the area, with 13 of those suffering direct strikes from missiles or drones. The attacks have caused major disruptions to global trade, some 12% of which passes through the Red Sea.
Houthi drone and missile activity has escalated since the Gaza war began, and has continued despite Western military airstrikes on their bases in Yemen, which began on Jan. 11.Houthi attacks have targeted ships in the southern Red Sea and the neighboring Gulf of Aden, which are joined by the Bab al-Mandab strait, a chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
The narrow waterway lies between Djibouti and Eritrea on the coast of east Africa and western Yemen, much of which is under Houthi control.
Bab al-Mandab is a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean: exports to the Western markets from the Gulf and Asia must pass through before entering the Suez Canal.
At only 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, shipping traffic is limited to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments, leading to occasional congestion.
In the past week, the pace of those airstrikes has slowed, while interceptions of missiles and drones by U.S. and allied naval forces in the area has increased.
The Houthis have said the airstrikes have had no effect on their capabilities.
Israel, the U.S. and allies, have been shooting down Houthi missiles and drones since the conflict broke out in Gaza. Many targets were unknown or heading towards Israel but as time progressed, many were suspected to be targeting naval or commercial ships.
Many of the Houthi attacks have been on container vessels and dry bulk carriers. However, on Jan. 26, the Marlin Luanda oil tanker – operated on behalf of international commodity trader Trafigura – was hit by a Houthi anti-ship missile in the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire that lasted several hours.
While no casualties were reported, the incident was the most destructive of the crisis so far.
“The recent strike on the Marlin Luanda highlights the ongoing risk to vessels and the likelihood that the current crisis will impact shipping and commodity markets for the foreseeable future,” data and analytics group Kpler said in a Jan 30 report.
The Houthis emerged in 1990. The group have long received funds, arms and training from Iran.
Their new Iranian-made weapons include Qasef-1 and Qasef-2K reconnaissance and attack drones. While cheap and basic, these drones have a 50-60 mile range with a small warhead of around 30-40 kgs.
Other drones included the Sammad 1, 2 and 3, which are similar to the Qasef with a longer range of around 300 miles and smaller 18 kg warheads.
Many of the fired weapon of Hotis do not cause any significant damage but their disruptive impact on maritime trade, which relies on insurance, causing significant financial impact and operational complexity.
Hotis are also using AIS (ship tracking) systems, and also intelligence from Iran. Automatic identification system, or AIS, is a transponder system that allows maritime authorities and companies to publicly track commercial shipping and identify vessels.
The United States, Britain, and other allied nations, have carried out strikes from the air and sea against Houthi military targets in Yemen in response to the attacks on shipping.
Strikes continued throughout January. The Pentagon says it has struck anti-ship missiles on the ground, as well as coastal radar and Houthi air surveillance capabilities and weapon storage sites.
Shipping companies have been re-routing their cargo ships via Africa’s southern Cape of Good Hope. It has risen the cost for good also raising fears it could stoke global inflation. Container shipping, which transports consumer goods, has been the segment most impacted by the attacks in the Red Sea due to fixed routes through the waterway. The number of container vessels sailing through the Suez Canal has fallen by about 65% since the attacks began.
Because of the high risks, seafarers are signing agreements to receive double pay when entering the high-risk zones around Yemen.