Two maps show why shipping firms are suspending routes in the Red Sea

This month at least six commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea have been subjected to drone and missile attacks as they approached the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The attacks have come from Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who since 2014 have controlled a large portion of western Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa, and coastal areas along the Red Sea.

The attacks endanger ships traveling through this vital corridor with cargo and energy shipments from the Suez Canal through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and out to the Indian Ocean. The Houthis have claimed that these attacks are aimed at ending the Israeli air and ground offensive targeting the Gaza Strip and Hamas.

The Red Sea is defined by two narrow waterways: to the north, the Suez Canal, an Egyptian waterway; and to the south, the Bab al-Mandab Strait. The strait is only 20 miles wide and is bordered by Djibouti and Eritrea to the west and Yemen to the east. Nearly 10 percent of all oil traded at sea passes through it, and an estimated $1 trillion in goods moves through the strait annually. The Strait of Hormuz, which is the entryway to the Persian Gulf and is bordered by Iran and Oman, is roughly 30 miles wide, for comparison.

MarineTracker, a company that tracks global shipping, indicated that one of the ships reportedly attacked Friday, the MSC Palatium III, passed through the strait and upon being attacked turned around rather than continue north closer to the rebel-held coast.


Bab al-Mandeb Strait chokepoint

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container ship lanes

MSC Palatium III

container ship path

on Dec. 15

Bab al-Mandeb Strait chokepoint

Predominant

container

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MSC Palatium III

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Dec. 15

Bab al-Mandeb Strait chokepoint

Predominant

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MSC Palatium III

container ship

path on Dec. 15

On Friday, one day after an aerial missile narrowly missed a Maersk ship, the Gibraltar, the Danish shipping company instructed all Maersk vessels bound to pass through the Bab al-Mandab Strait to pause their journeys until further notice. Another shipping company, the German-based Hapag-Lloyd, also suspended container traffic through Monday.

Maersk, posting on X, said that “the recent attacks on commercial vessels in the Bab al-Mandab Strait are alarming and pose a significant threat to the safety & lives of seafarers. … This issue cannot be addressed by the global shipping industry alone, and we urge the international society to come together to find a swift resolution to bring the situation under control.”

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in Tel Aviv on Friday that the United States is “building a coalition” and will take “every step” to deter the Houthi rebels from carrying out attacks in the Red Sea.


Credit:
1: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/12/15/two-maps-show-why-shipping-firms-are-suspending-routes-red-sea/

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