Shipping behemoth Maersk mulling return to Red Sea route after Houthi assault

Danish carrier and UK rival Hapag-Lloyd to decide Tuesday on whether to continue avoiding key strait threatened by Iran-backed group in Yemen or begin using Suez shortcut again

Illustrative: A Maersk container ship at Aqaba, Jordan, on the Red Sea on October 3, 2019. (eugenesergeev/iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A Maersk container ship at Aqaba, Jordan, on the Red Sea on October 3, 2019. (eugenesergeev/iStock by Getty Images)

OSLO, Norway — Denmark’s Maersk will decide on Tuesday whether to resume sending vessels through the Suez Canal via the Red Sea or redirect them around Africa following a weekend attack on one of its ships, a company spokesperson said.

The container shipping giant on Sunday paused all Red Sea sailings for 48 hours following attempts by Yemen-based Houthi rebels to board the Maersk Hangzhou. US military helicopters repelled the assault and killed 10 of the attackers.

Maersk had more than 30 container vessels set to sail through Suez via the Red Sea, an advisory on Monday showed, while 17 other voyages were put on hold.

The Iranian-backed Houthis, who control parts of Yemen after years of war, started attacking international shipping in November in support of Palestinian terror group Hamas in its war with Israel in the Gaza Strip.

A decision will be made on Tuesday regarding how to proceed, the company spokesperson said.

The Hangzhou, which was hit by an unknown object during the attack, was able to continue on its way with LSEG shipping data showing the vessel now close to the Suez Canal.

Major shipping groups, including Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd , last month stopped using Red Sea routes, instead taking the longer journey around southern Africa via the Cape of Good Hope. Other companies announced they would stop servicing Israeli ports.

A US-led international naval coalition to protect Red Sea shipping was announced in late December, leading Maersk to announce on December 24 that it was preparing a return to the Red Sea.

Illustrative — The container ship Gjertrud Maersk, anchored off the coast of Virginia Beach on June 29, 2020 (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Rival Hapag-Lloyd on Friday said it would continue to avoid the Red Sea but like Maersk would make update its plans on Tuesday.

According to Maersk, its alliance partner Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) was continuing to divert its vessels via the Cape of Good Hope.

MSC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping, 12 percent of global trade passes through the Red Sea, which provides a shortcut past Africa via the Suez Canal.

Redirecting ships around the southern tip of Africa is expected to cost up to $1 million in extra fuel for every round trip between Asia and Northern Europe.

On Monday, Iran’s Alborz warship entered the Red Sea through the strategic Bab el-Mandeb strait, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, in an apparent challenge to the Western-backed protection force.

In this image provided by the US Navy, the amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall and amphibious assault ship USS Bataan transit the Bab el-Mandeb strait on August 9, 2023. (Mass Communications Spc. 2nd Class Moises Sandoval/US Navy via AP)

Israel launched its war to eliminate Hamas after the Palestinian terror group carried out a massive assault on southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, most civilians and taking around 240 hostages into Gaza, where scores remain captive.

Aside from putting a squeeze on the Bab el-Mandeb strait, Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen have responded to the fighting in Gaza with missile, rocket and drone attacks on Israel and US forces stationed in the Mideast.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: