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Houthis Claim Major Strike in Red Sea : Raising Concerns for Global Shipping

Houthis Claim Major Strike in Red Sea : Raising Concerns for Global Shipping

Houthis Claim Major Strike in Red Sea : Raising Concerns for Global Shipping

The Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed their most significant attack yet in the ongoing conflict over the Red Sea, targeting a Belize-flagged cargo ship named Rubymar. While the extent of the damage remains unclear, the Houthis claim the vessel is at risk of sinking, marking a potential propaganda victory for the group.

Attack Details and Houthi Claims:

  • The Rubymar, sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Bulgaria, was struck on Sunday 93 miles east of Aden, Yemen.
  • Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree announced the attack in a televised address, claiming “catastrophic damage” and a potential sinking.
  • The Houthis claim they ensured the crew’s safe evacuation before the attack.

Conflicting Reports and International Response:

  • The ship’s security firm, LSS-SAPU, confirmed the attack but did not confirm the sinking, stating the crew was evacuated and options for towing are being considered.
  • Another incident involved a US-owned and Greek-flagged bulk carrier requesting military assistance due to a suspected missile attack, with the crew reported safe.
  • These attacks come days after the US designated the Houthis as a terrorist organization and coincide with the launch of the EU’s naval protection operation “Aspides” in the region.

Wider Implications and Concerns:

  • The Houthis claim these attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and target ships linked to Israel, the US, and the UK.
  • The attacks significantly disrupt essential shipping routes connecting Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, leading to:
    • Increased shipping costs due to rerouting around Africa.
    • Potential delays in deliveries and rising costs for Indian exporters.
    • A 40% drop in weekly toll revenues for the Suez Canal.
  • International efforts aim to address the situation:
    • The UK is conducting airstrikes against Houthi missile launchers, though expecting long-term impact.
    • The EU launched a defensive naval operation to protect shipping in the region.
    • The US and India discussed ensuring freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.

Uncertainties and Potential Escalation:

  • While China, a key user of the Red Sea route, hasn’t actively intervened, pressure on Iran, a supporter of the Houthis, is being considered.
  • The fluid relationship between Houthis and Iran raises concerns about further escalation.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and India’s external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, also discussed the need to ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, in a meeting on the sidelines of the Munich security conference on Friday.

Indian exporters have been complaining about a large rise in shipment costs to Europe, the US East Coast, north Africa, and parts of the Middle East as shipping companies are not only charging more for the longer route but also imposing many insurance premiums. While this has not yet been reflected in the export numbers as older orders are being honored, if the conflict continues, things may deteriorate.

Total weekly toll revenues from the Suez Canal have dropped by 40% since the end of November to $28m (£22m), according to the maritime freight management firm Veson Nautical.

Since November, the Houthis have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters in response to Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Overall, the situation in the Red Sea remains tense, with the Houthis’ attacks posing a significant threat to global shipping and regional stability. International efforts are underway to address the situation, but the long-term implications and potential for further escalation remain uncertain.

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