Shipping firms MSC and CMA CGM are latest to suspend passage through Red Sea

Four major companies have announced a pause in movement near Yemen amid Houthi attacks on ships

In this photo provided by Manuel Hernandez Lafuente, the CMA CGM Symi is seen at port in Valencia, Spain, Oct. 22, 2023. (Manuel Hernandez Lafuente via AP)
In this photo provided by Manuel Hernandez Lafuente, the CMA CGM Symi is seen at port in Valencia, Spain, Oct. 22, 2023. (Manuel Hernandez Lafuente via AP)

Two more major shipping firms, Mediterranean Shipping Company and CMA CGM, said on Saturday they were suspending passage through a Red Sea strait vital for global trade after Yemeni rebel attacks in the area.

The announcement by Italian-Swiss giant MSC and France’s CMA CGM follows a similar decision on Friday by two of the world’s largest shipping companies, Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, in response to a warning by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Houthis, who control much of Yemen, said they were targeting vessels to pressure Israel over its war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

A CMA CGM vessel with ties to Israel came under attack in the Indian Ocean in November.

The new statements came after a ballistic missile fired by Houthis slammed into a cargo ship, the MSC Palatium III, on Friday in the Red Sea near the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait, following another attack only hours earlier that struck the Al Jasrah, setting it ablaze, authorities said.

The two missile attacks escalated a maritime campaign by the Iranian-backed Houthis.

The attacks endanger ships traveling through a vital corridor for cargo and energy shipments for both Europe and Asia from the Suez Canal out to the Indian Ocean.

The Houthis say their attacks aim to end Israel’s war with the Hamas terror group. However, the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue.

“The Yemeni armed forces confirm they will continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports from navigating in the (Red Sea) until they bring in the food and medicine that our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip need,” the Houthi military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, said in a statement claiming responsibility for Friday’s attacks.

War erupted in Gaza after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians — under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas and launched a widescale offensive aimed at rooting out the terror organization’s military and governance capabilities.

Global shipping has increasingly been targeted as the Israel-Hamas war threatens to become a wider regional conflict.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday that the Houthis were a “threat to freedom of navigation to commercial shipping.”

“The United States is working with the international community, with partners from the region and from all over the world to deal with this threat,” Sullivan told journalists.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is only 29 kilometers (18 miles) wide at its narrowest point, limiting traffic to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Nearly 10% of all oil traded at sea passes through it. An estimated $1 trillion in goods pass through the strait annually.

In November, Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeida. Separately, a container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean.

A tentative ceasefire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government has held for months despite that country’s long war. That’s raised concerns that any wider conflict in the sea — or a potential reprisal strike from Western forces — could reignite those tensions in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

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