The recent attacks on ships in and near the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi rebels have affected some of the world’s top shipping and oil companies. The threat has moved trade away from an important route for global trade. The change will likely cause delays and increase the prices of goods and energy.
Both oil and European natural gas prices rose a little over market concerns about Houthi attacks. The group, which is supported by Iran, confirmed two new attacks Monday. They were the latest in a series of attacks targeting container ships and oil tankers passing through the narrow waterway that separates Yemen from East Africa. The waterway then leads north to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. It is estimated that 10 percent of the world’s trade passes through the canal.
Energy supplies reach Europe and beyond on tankers. And food products like palm oil and grain are carried by container ships through the Suez Canal.
“This is a problem for Europe. It’s a problem for Asia,” said John Stawpert. He is with the International Chamber of Shipping. The industry group represents 80 percent of the world’s commercial shipping fleet. Stawpert noted that 40 percent of Asia-Europe trade normally takes the route through the Red Sea.
Almost all goods that stores need for Christmas will have already arrived. But online orders could be delayed, experts said. That is because four of the world’s five largest container shipping companies have suspended or rerouted movements from the Red Sea in recent days.
MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM Group, and Hapag-Lloyd are shipping companies that move all consumer goods between Asia and Europe. Almost “all services will have to make this rerouting,” said Simon Heaney, who is with Drewry, a shipping research group.
Ships will have to go around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope instead. That will add at least a week of travel time, experts say.
Depending on what companies decide to do, they could add more ships to make up for the longer trip. They could also travel faster, but that would use more fuel.
Stawpert of the Shipping Chamber said he expects some price increases in the short term. But that depends on how long the security threat lasts.
The Houthi military spokesman said Monday his group launched what he described as “naval aircraft” at the Cayman Islands-flagged ship Swan Atlantic. The boat is a chemical and oil products carrier. The group also attacked the Panama-flagged cargo ship MSC CLARA. He did not offer more details.
Denmark-based ship operator Uni-Tankers said the Swan Atlantic was hit by an unknown object that started a small fire. Crew members put it out and all were reported to be safe, the company said. It received military aid and continued on its way.
U.S., French, British and other warships already patrol the area, keeping the waterway open. Stawpert said countries’ naval presence has increased and that should improve confidence in the shipping industry and somewhat ease the threat.
Problems in Red Sea shipping could have far-reaching effects because they are happening at the same time ships are being restricted through the Panama Canal. The canal is a major trade route between Asia and the United States.
Some companies had planned to reroute to the Red Sea to avoid delays at the Panama Canal caused by a lack of rainfall, experts said.
With the Houthi attacks, companies taking measures to avoid risk will have to take the longer route around Africa.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting from The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
route — n. a way to get from one place to another
commercial –adj. related to business or trade
fleet –n. a group of vehicles, especially ships, controlled by one company or a country
cargo –n. a sellable good that is transported by vehicle
patrol –v. to go through an area to make sure that it is safe and free from risks