Maersk has announced that all its vessels due to transit the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden will be diverted south around the Cape of Good Hope for the foreseeable future. According to IMO, at least eighteen shipping companies now re-route their vessels around South Africa.

Houthi militia have attacked merchant ships passing through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden with missiles and drones in recent weeks. Houthi militia in Yemen, which has stated sympathies with Hamas and according to the US Government are being armed by Iran, has claimed the missile and drone attacks on merchant ships are in response to the conflict in Gaza.

On 2nd January 2024, Maersk had already announced that it would pause all vessels bound for the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden in light of the recent incident involving Maersk Hangzhou and ongoing developments in the area. Maersk states: ‘The situation is constantly evolving and remains highly volatile, and all available intelligence at hand confirms that the security risk continues to be at a significantly elevated level.’

‘While we continue to hope for a sustainable resolution in the near-future and do all we can to contribute towards it, we do encourage customers to prepare for complications in the area to persist and for there to be significant disruption to the global network,’ Maersk concludes.

Also read: Bulk carrier boarded by pirates in Arabian Sea

Eighteen shipping companies re-route

Speaking last week, Arsenio Dominguez, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), said that at least eighteen shipping companies have already decided to re-route their vessels around South Africa, adding ten days to the journey, negatively affecting trade and increasing freight rates.

In addition to Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, MSC and Evergreen Line are also diverting their ships around the Cape of Good Hope. In its latest communications dated 26 and 28 December, CMA CGM says it is re-routing several ships, but not yet all of them.

Also read: US, UK, Netherlands and others to protect ships in Red Sea

Maersk Hangzhou incident

On 30 December, at approximately 18:00 CET, the Maersk Hanghzou was hit by an unknown object after passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait en route from Singapore to Port Suez, Egypt. There was no indication of a fire on board and the vessel was able to continue its transit north.

After the initial attack, four boats approached the container ship and opened fire in an attempt to board the vessel. Maersk Hangzhou’s security team, along with a helicopter deployed from a nearby navy vessel, successfully thwarted the attempt.

The crew of the Maersk Hangzhou was not injured in the attack. The Maersk Hangzhou was among the first vessels to go through the Red Sea again following confirmation that the multinational security initiative Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) had been deployed in the area.

Also read: IMB: Piracy on the rise again, regional efforts needed