Red Sea attacks on liner majors’ vessels highlight crucial link between world peace and just energy transition

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Illustration; Image credit Maersk

The global efforts to achieve decarbonization targets bolstered by nearly 200 countries that vowed to phase out fossil fuels at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai earlier this week in an attempt to avert climate catastrophe is overshadowed by global geopolitical instabilities and ongoing wars, which beyond the visible and heartbreaking human cost are inflicting a profound toll on the environment.

The shipping industry has fallen victim to the escalating tensions in the Red Sea region, a crucial maritime route for international trade.

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has reverberated beyond the immediate battlegrounds, reaching the Red Sea where the Houthi army is using maritime retaliation against global shipping companies.

Namely, the container shipping industry’s most prominent names including Maersk, MSC and Hapag-Lloyd have seen their vessels targeted by Houthi drones over the past couple of days.

On Thursday, a Maersk cargo ship was targeted by a missile off the coast of Yemen, according to the Danish company, adding to a series of attacks by the Yemeni Houthi group on shipping.

“The naval forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces carried out a military operation against the “Maersk Gebrelater” container ship, which was en route to the Israeli entity. It was targeted by a drone and the hit was accurate,” the Spokesperson of the Yemeni Armed Forces Yahya Sare’e said in a statement.

The operation was launched when the ship’s crew refused to respond to calls from Yemeni naval forces.”

In a separate incident, maritime security company Ambrey reported that a Malta-flagged, Bulgarian-owned bulk carrier was allegedly boarded in the Arabian Sea near the Yemeni island of Socotra.

Hapag-Lloyd’s 15,000 TEU vessel Al Jasrah has also been attacked, earlier today, the company confirmed in a statement to Offshore Energy.

“We confirm that today our 15,000 TEU vessel Al Jasrah, sailing in the MD2 service, has been attacked while sailing close to the coast of Yemen. No crew member was injured. Hapag-Lloyd will take additional measures to secure the safety of our crews,” the company said.

The attack has reportedly caused a fire on deck.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said it had “received a report from the Master stating that an explosion onboard which resulted in a fire which has now been extinguished. The attack occurred in the vicinity of the Bab El Mandeb, 30 nm South West of port Mokha, Yemen. Crew and vessel are reported safe at present. Authorities are investigating. Vessels are advised to transit with caution.”

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Reports have also emerged saying that MSC-operated MSC Alanya was approached by Yemeni authorities south-west of Hodeidah and told the ship to alter its course.

The latest incidents come on the back of the seizure of Galaxy Leader car carrier and its crew on November 19.

Yemeni Armed Forces have taken responsibility for the seizure, claiming that its naval forces had captured an ‘Israeli ship’ and taken it to the Yemeni coast. The move is seen as a retaliation against Israel in relation to its ongoing war against Hamas which, as warned by the U.N, has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Yemeni Armed Forces warned that ‘all ships belonging to or dealing’ with Israel would become a ‘legitimate target‘ of the Yemeni armed forces until the ‘aggression against Gaza stops’.

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The targeting of commercial ships seems to have widened to all vessels heading to Israel, and the Yemeni Armed Forces said that over the past 48 hours they prevented the passage of ‘multiple ships to Israel entity.’

The Yemeni Armed Forces vowed to continue to prevent the navigation of vessels heading to Israel until ‘enough food and medicine’ was allowed into the Strip.

Targeting global shipping carries significant economic ramifications. The disruption of maritime trade routes affects not only the involved shipping companies but also the broader global economy. Houthi militants are leveraging this economic disruption as a bargaining chip, pressuring the international community to address the conflict.

Disruptions to the flow of goods, including vital humanitarian aid, highlight the urgency of finding a resolution and addressing the dire humanitarian situation in conflict-affected areas.

Furthermore, by disrupting commercial activities in a critical maritime region, they seek to compel the international community to actively engage in mediating a solution to the conflict, emphasizing the need for diplomatic efforts to end the hostilities.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) condemned the actions of the Houthis and called for the immediate cessation of these attacks.

“These attacks are a flagrant breach of international law. States with influence in the region should, as a matter of urgency, work to stop the actions of the Houthis in attacking seafarers and merchant ships, and de-escalate what is now an extremely serious threat to international trade,” ICS said in a statement.

Some companies have already rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid Houthi aggression which adds cost and delay to global trade.

“Industry is extremely concerned about these attacks on shipping and is understood to be considering additional actions which could lead to further ships diverting to this route, with further potential impacts on trade. The Red Sea is a crucial waterway, linking Europe and Asia. Currently 12% of global trade passes through the Red Sea,” ICS said, urging for increased presence of naval forces in the region.

The European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) call for immediate action to urgently address this alarming situation.

“The recent attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea area are deeply concerning. ECSA strongly advocates for the enhancement of protective structures for the security of commercial vessels transiting through the area. These measures are crucial to ensure the safety and well-being of our seafarers and to enhance the security of vital trade routes. We also encourage and support all coordinated efforts, including diplomatic, contributing to maintaining the freedom of navigation,” said Sotiris Raptis, ECSA Secretary General. 

Global peace is an essential prerequisite for successful decarbonization strategies

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a global blueprint for addressing pressing challenges and achieving a more sustainable future for all. Integral to the success of these ambitious goals is the foundational pillar of world peace.

Among the 17 SDGs, Goal 16 stands out as the linchpin for the intersection of sustainable development and peace. Titled “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions,” it underscores the recognition that sustainable development is unattainable without the establishment of peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.

The frequent use of explosives, bombing, and artillery in conflict zones releases pollutants into the air. Particulate matter, heavy metals, and toxic gases contribute to air pollution, impacting not only the immediate vicinity but also extending beyond borders, affecting neighboring countries.

Furthermore, the deployment of chemical weapons and the targeting of industrial facilities in conflict areas result in the release of hazardous substances into the environment.

Mass displacement resulting from wars places enormous pressure on host environments. In refugee camps, inadequate waste management and sanitation facilities exacerbate pollution, leading to the degradation of surrounding ecosystems and water sources.

A just energy transition requires inclusivity and social justice. In regions affected by conflict, marginalized communities are often disproportionately impacted by energy policies. Global peace facilitates a more inclusive dialogue, ensuring that all voices are heard and that the benefits of the energy transition are distributed equitably, contributing to a fair and just transition.

The interconnectedness of economies and the transnational nature of environmental challenges demand cooperation on a global scale. The current tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere serve as a stark reminder that without stability, the ambitious pledges made at international forums for a carbon-neutral future could remain elusive.

The inseparable link between geopolitical stability and environmental sustainability calls for urgent attention from the international community. Efforts to address the root causes of tensions and promote peaceful resolutions are imperative to ensure that the world can collectively navigate toward a low-carbon future. As long as the specter of conflict persists, the lofty promises of decarbonization may falter, leaving the planet in the grip of climate change’s relentless advance.

Without free transport of goods, the shift to alternative fuels, no matter how sustainable, will not matter.