A cargo ship travelling towards the Suez Canal suffered a missile hit on Tuesday, on a second successive day of damage to vessels and increasing trade disruption from attacks off Yemen.
The latest strikes have prompted more categories of ships to avoid the key shipping route through the Red Sea, despite bombings by the US and UK last week.
The military action aimed to counter the threat from the Houthis, the Iran-backed group in Yemen blamed for the attacks. Vessels are instead taking the longer route between Asia and Europe via the Cape of Good Hope.
There was no immediate confirmation of which force fired the latest missile, but the Houthis, who have launched more than 30 attacks on commercial ships, are the only group active in the area.
Automotive companies have been especially affected by the delays to ships. Volvo Cars on Tuesday said it had halted production at its factory in Belgium after the shipping disruption delayed a delivery of gearboxes, while tyre manufacturer Michelin said Red Sea delays would lead to “occasional stoppages” at its European factories in January.
The latest missile strike hit a ship in the southern Red Sea about 100 nautical miles north-west of Saleef, Yemen, according to the UK’s Maritime Trade Operations office (UKMTO). Vanguard, a maritime security service, identified the vessel involved as the Zografia, a Malta-flagged carrier of dry bulk goods, a category of commodities that ranges from coal and iron ore to grain and steel products.
UKMTO said the vessel had been hit by an “unknown object in the cargo hold”, damaging the ship above the water line, but that there were no casualties.
Vessels in the same category are increasingly diverting elsewhere. Figures from Clarksons, the London-based shipping services company, showed that between January 13 and 15, arrivals of dry bulk carriers in the Gulf of Aden, by the Red Sea, had fallen 25 per cent from the first half of December. Until last week, arrivals of such vessels had hardly been affected.
The decline threatens delays and extra costs for industries including food manufacturing and metals that receive shipments of the many commodities transported in dry bulk carriers.
Tuesday’s incident followed a missile strike on Monday on the Gibraltar Eagle, another bulk carrier, in the Gulf of Aden. US and UK forces launched strikes on more than 60 Houthi targets last week in what they said was an effort to halt the attacks.
The Houthis have vowed to respond aggressively and to continue targeting ships in a campaign that they say is a response to Israel’s offensive against Hamas, the Palestinian militant movement, in Gaza.
The US Central Command said on Tuesday that the country’s navy had seized Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missile components on January 11 from a vessel heading to “resupply Houthi forces in Yemen”. Two Navy Seals were lost at sea in the operation and the search for them continued, it said.
The latest assaults from Yemen raise the prospect that dry bulk shipowners will divert en masse away from the Red Sea route, as companies operating container ships — which carry manufactured and semi-finished goods such as electronics — have already done.
Arrivals of container ships have fallen 90 per cent from early December, according to Clarksons.
One large ship operator, Japan’s NYK Line, said on Tuesday it had “temporarily suspended” Red Sea navigation for all its vessels, which include dry bulk ships, tankers, liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers and car-carrying roll-on, roll-off ships.
“For vessels navigating near the Red Sea, NYK has instructed waiting in safe waters and is considering route changes,” the company said.
Other natural gas tanker operators are also changing routes. Nils Kristian Strøm, managing director of Knutsen LNG, which operates six tankers for Shell, confirmed vessels operating for the company had been diverted to the longer route.
Another three LNG carriers working for Qatar’s state-owned QatarEnergy — which had been due to enter the Red Sea to sail to Europe — had diverted to different routes, according to ship-tracking data from Kpler, an information service.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said the escalating attacks in the Red Sea had changed how international trade and shipping were viewed and how interconnected east and west were.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Sheikh Mohammed said: “I believe that if we want to address the issue, we need to address the real issue, the central issue, which is [the war in] Gaza, in order to get everything else defused.”
Also at Davos, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said his country had expected the Houthis to continue to threaten the US after its first strikes. More countries would need to confront the group, he said.
“[This] comes down . . . to the broad set of countries, including those with influence in Tehran and influence in other capitals in the Middle East, making this a priority,” he said.
Such steps would indicate the “entire world” rejected the idea that a group such as the Houthis could “basically hijack the world”, as they were doing, he said.
Additional reporting by Peter Campbell in London, Sarah White in Paris and Felicia Schwartz in Washington
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