Shipping companies halt Red Sea journeys after Houthi strikes

Two major world shipping companies have announced they will pause all journeys through the Red Sea after a series of attacks on Israel-bound ships by Yemen’s Houthi forces.

Danish shipping company Maersk said on Friday it was suspending its vessels’ passage through the key Bab al-Mandeb Strait, and the German container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd said it would pause journeys in the Red Sea until Monday.

The announcements come after attacks from Houthi-controlled Yemen hit two Liberian-flagged ships in the Bab al-Mandab Strait earlier on Friday, a US defence official told the news agency Reuters.

A projectile, believed to be a drone, struck one of the vessels, causing a fire but no injuries, the official added.

The ship was identified as the Liberia-flagged Al-Jasrah, a 370-metre (1,200-foot) container ship built in 2016.

Private intelligence firm Ambrey announced the vessel, owned by German transport company Hapag-Lloyd, “sustained physical damage from an aerial attack” north of the Yemeni coastal city of al-Makha (Mocha).

“The projectile reportedly hit the port side of the vessel and one container fell overboard due to the impact. The projectile caused a fire on deck” that was reported over radio, Ambrey noted.

Two ballistic missiles were fired in the second attack, one of which struck a vessel, causing a fire, which the crew was working to extinguish, the US official said.

The Associated Press news agency identified the vessel struck in the second attack as the Liberain-flagged MSC Palatium III.

“Following the near-miss incident involving Maersk Gibraltar yesterday [Thursday] and yet another attack on a container vessel today, we have instructed all Maersk vessels in the area bound to pass through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait to pause their journey until further notice,” according to a statement from Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies.

German container shipping line Hapag-Lloyd has paused all its sailings through the Red Sea until December 18, a spokesperson stated on Friday.

“Then we will decide for the period thereafter,” the spokesperson added.

The Houthis announced in a statement that they had fired missiles at two ships – the MSC Alanya and MSC Palatium III. The statement did not mention Al Jasrah.

An MSC spokesperson said there had been no attack on the Alanya. Asked about the Houthi claim of an attack on the Palatium III, the spokesperson provided no further comment.

The Houthis noted both vessels had been heading to Israel.

However, Alanya and Palatium III both listed Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as their destination, according to data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic.

“We will continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports until the food and medicine our people need in the Gaza Strip is brought in,” the Houthi statement read.

“We assure all ships heading to all ports of the world apart from Israeli ports that they will suffer no harm and they must keep their identification device on,” it added.

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