Photo credits @ Corey Seeman under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED (illustrative purposes only)

MSC, CMA CGM, Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd divert container ships from the Red Sea in face of attacks

The escalating threat of Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea has reportedly prompted major container lines to divert vessels away from the critical waterway. Shipping experts warn of a potential disruption to the supply chain as ships are forced to take longer routes.

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MSC, CMA CGM, Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd have all announced the suspension of their Red Sea transits, opting to divert their vessels via the longer and more circuitous route around the Cape of Good Hope to protect their vessels and crews.

The decision comes in response to a series of recent attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have targeted vessels believed to be linked to Israel.

In the most recent incident, the MSC Platinum III, a container ship sub-chartered to Messina Line, was attacked on 15 December, suffered limited fire damage and was taken out of service.

MSC issued the following statement following the attack on 16 December:

On 15 December 2023 the container ship MSC PALATIUM III was attacked at approximately 09.37 UTC while transiting the Red Sea under sub charter to Messina Line. All crew are safe with no reported injuries, meanwhile the vessel suffered limited fire damage and has been taken out of service.

Due to this incident and to protect the lives and safety of our seafarers, until the Red Sea passage is safe, MSC ships will not transit the Suez Canal Eastbound and Westbound. Already now, some services will be rerouted to go via the Cape of Good Hope instead.

This disruption will impact the sailing schedules by several days of vessels booked for Suez transit.

This was followed by CMA CGM’s announcement on the 17th, stating that the situation was further deteriorating and concerns for safety were increasing.

The CMA CGM Group is deeply concerned about the recent attacks on commercial vessels unfolding in the Red Sea Region. We have been  taking over the past days increasing prevention  measures to ensure the safety of our vessels and their crews navigating these waters. The situation is further deteriorating and concern of safety is increasing. 

A such we have decided to instruct all CMA CGM containerships in the area that are scheduled to pass through the Red Sea to reach safe areas and pause their journey in safe waters with immediate effect until further notice.

Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd were also reported to have suspended vessel movements following a near-miss drone strike on the containership Maersk Gibraltar on 15 December.

The diversion of these major container lines could have a significant impact on the global supply chain, potentially echoing the disruption caused by the closure of the Suez Canal in 2021, maritime experts have warned.

The longer route around the Cape of Good Hope would add several days to transit times, potentially affecting the delivery of goods and causing price increases.

In addition to container lines, Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), part of the Cosco Shipping Group, has also suspended acceptance of Israeli cargo until further notice, citing operational issues, Seatrade Maritime News reports.

Container shipping expert Lars Jensen gave his view of the situation, saying that there was a mixed picture in the southern Red Sea in terms of container ship movements. While some vessels from Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and ONE are still north of the danger zone, others from Evergreen and Wan Hai have just passed through, and two CMA CGM vessels are heading south towards the choke point.

Jensen warned that AIS data may not be entirely accurate due to the security situation in the area and that some vessels may be deliberately disabling their transponders for security reasons.

Photo credits @ Corey Seeman under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED (illustrative purposes only)