Major global shipping firms are taking steps towards returning to the Red Sea in full steam as US steps up efforts to ward off militant attacks on vessels travelling through the Suez Canal.
France’s CMA CGM said on Tuesday it is increasing the number of ships taking the Suez Canal route. Its statement came after Maersk — the world’s largest shipping company — said on Sunday it was preparing to resume shipping operations in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Uncertainty in the Red Sea, after Yemen’s Houthi militant group began targeting vessels this month, is threatening to worsen the global surge in inflation.
Freighters have been forced to take longer and more expensive routes to transport everything from electric vehicles to toothbrushes from Asia to the West.
Some container lines have also introduced surcharges due to the re-routing of vessels, adding to rising costs for sea transport since the Houthis started targeting vessels.
But shipping firms are now reviewing whether it is safe to return to the Suez Canal — the quickest sea route between Asia and Europe.
Their plans come after the United States announced a multinational maritime security initiative in the Red Sea in response to attacks on vessels by Yemen’s Houthis.
On Tuesday, a US military account posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) that American assets shot down “twelve one-way attack drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles, and two land attack cruise missiles in the Southern Red Sea that were fired by the Houthis over a 10 hour period.”
Shippers assessing threats
CMA CGM, which also implemented surcharges, said it has undertaken “an in-depth evaluation of the security landscape.”
“We are currently devising plans for the gradual increase in the number of vessels transiting through the Suez Canal. We are monitoring the situation constantly and we stand ready to promptly reassess and adjust our plans as needed,” it said in a statement.
In a notice posted on its website on Tuesday, CMA CGM listed 28 of its vessels as being re-routed around the Cape of Good Hope, a longer and costlier route.
That number was 22 in a previous list published last Thursday.
Meanwhile, German container shipping group Hapag-Lloyd is also set to decide on whether to resume journeys through the Red Sea.
“We will decide tomorrow how we will proceed,” a Hapag-Lloyd spokesperson said on Tuesday, declining to comment further.
The company had said last week it would redirect 25 ships by the end of the year to avoid the area.
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Houthi attacks continue
Maersk did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday about when it would return vessels to the Suez Canal and what assistance it had received from the US-led maritime force.
But in its statement in Sunday, the Danish firm had cited the deployment of US-led military operations as the reason behind resuming Red Sea operations.
Despite US efforts, however, Houthi militants are continuing to disrupt freight transport.
Mediterranean Shipping Co. said container ship United VIII was attacked while transiting the Red Sea on Tuesday. The Houthis also on Tuesday claimed to have fired missiles at the vessel, without saying it was struck.
Two explosions in the Red Sea were reported by a vessel sailing off the coast of Yemen on Tuesday, shortly after two unmanned aircraft were sighted, a British maritime authority said.
The British maritime authority said the vessel was in contact with coalition forces and that reports said the crew was safe and the vessel was continuing its voyage.
- Reuters, with additional editing by Vishakha Saxena