Maersk has suspended all shipping activities through the Red Sea for an indefinite period, citing heightened security concerns stemming from potential attacks on vessels navigating the Suez Canal.

In a statement, Maersk highlighted the continually evolving and highly volatile nature of the situation, with available intelligence indicating a persistently elevated security risk.

The indefinite suspension by Maersk deepens concerns over the precarious security conditions in the Red Sea, potentially impeding one of the world’s most critical trade routes despite efforts led by the US to enhance security.

The Suez Canal, facilitating up to 30 percent of global container trade by connecting the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, now faces the risk of prolonged disruption that will prolong the journeys leading to delays and costly goods.

This decision follows Maersk’s earlier temporary halt of transits in the region, initiated in response to an assault by Houthi militants on the Maersk Hangzhou container ship.

The Houthi rebels, backed by Iran and engaged in a civil war in Yemen, have escalated their attacks on commercial vessels in recent weeks. They claim these actions are retaliation for Israel’s military actions against Hamas.

A coalition of 12 governments, including the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, issued a stern joint statement, cautioning the Houthis against further attacks.

The statement warned of dire consequences for the Houthis should their actions persist, affecting lives, the global economy, and the free flow of commerce in the crucial waterways of the region.

According to the International Maritime Organisation, 18 shipping companies have rerouted around South Africa, extending their journeys by 10 days and leading to increased freight rates.

World majors, such as Hapag-Lloyd, Evergreen Line, and MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company, have diverted their vessels, while France’s CMA CGM has made some diversions but, as of December 26, was still considering the use of the Suez-Red Sea route.

Container traffic has reportedly borne the brunt of the disruptions, as indicated by shipping publication Lloyds List. Conversely, movements of oil tankers and vessels transporting grains or coal have experienced relatively minimal changes.

Shipping lines are now rerouting to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, prolonging the journey by over 10 days.

The company urged customers to anticipate persistent complications in the area, warning of significant disruptions to the global trade network.

gandae@businessdayafrica.org