Update: Maersk extends transit pause through Red Sea/Gulf of Aden

In the wake of the latest incident involving Maersk’s containership Maersk Hangzhou, the global liner major has decided to halt all transits through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden until further notice.

Illustration; Image credit Maersk

Just days after announcing its gradual return to the Red Sea, Maersk Hangzhou was targeted by a missile and small boat swarm by Yemen’s Houthi Group on December 30.

Maersk said that an unknown object hit the vessel, however, there was no indication of fire onboard and the vessel could continue its transit north. After the initial attack on the vessel, four boats approached the vessel and engaged fire in an expected attempt to board the vessel. The boarding was thwarted by the vessel’s security team and U.S. Navy helicopters.

“A contract embarked security team on the MAERSK HANZGHOU returned fire. U.S. helicopters from the USS EISENHOWER (CVN 69) and GRAVELY (DDG 107) responded to the distress call and in the process of issuing verbal calls to the small boats, the small boats fired upon the U.S. helicopters with crew served weapons and small arms. The U.S. Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews. The fourth boat fled the area,” the U.S. Central Command said.

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The Maersk Hangzhou’s crew was reported to be safe, and the vessel, showing no signs of fire and fully maneuverable, continued its northward journey to Port Suez.

Yemeni Houthi Forces have been targeting ‘all Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of occupied Palestine‘ as a means of expressing solidarity with the current situation in the Gaza Strip, demanding humanitarian aid and medicine be allowed into the war-stricken area. However, the strategy seems to have expanded to the majority of commercial vessels, even though companies claim that their vessels were heading to other destinations.

Meanwhile, Israel’s pounding of Gaza is continuing despite calls for a ceasefire, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hints the war is likely to continue for many more months.

Following the U.S. Navy’s intervention, Iran has reportedly sent the warship Alborz to the Red Sea, writes Reuters citing the Iranian news agency Tasnim, hinting to a possibility of further tension aggravation in the region.

UN data shows that more than 20,000 Palestinians were reportedly killed and 1.9 million people, 85 percent of the population, forced to flee their homes. 

Maersk Hangzhou was among the first vessels to go through the Red Sea again following confirmation that the multinational security initiatives, Operation Prosperity Guardia (OPG), had been deployed in the area.

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Following the attack, the company initiated a suspension of all sailings through the Red Sea until January 2. The suspension has now been suspended until further notice.

“An investigation into the incident is ongoing and we will continue to pause all cargo movement through the area while we further assess the constantly evolving situation. In cases where it makes most sense for our customers, vessels will be rerouted and continue their journey around the Cape of Good Hope,” Maersk said in an update.

German liner company Hapag-Lloyd is also staying away from the region as it believes the situation remains too dangerous to cross the Suez Canal.

“The safety of our crew is our first priority and we appreciate your understanding as we navigate through these circumstances,” the company said in an announcement on December 27, adding it would continue to reroute around the Cape of Good Hope.

French CMA CGM and Swuiss MSC are also diverting their ships via the Cape of Good Hope due to security concerns.

Anti-ship missile attacks in the Red Sea were reported on Tuesday as well, however, no hits or damage has been announced.

“The position taken by carriers regarding Red Sea transits mainly applies to vessels they themselves operate. If you book with a specific carrier and have a preference for a specific routing you need to look into who is operating the vessel on that specific sailing,” Lars Jensen, an expert in the container shipping industry, said.

“COSCO continues on track to have “CSCL Uranus” go into the Red Sea on their RES1 service which is a service also used by CMA CGM, Evergreen, OOCL and PIL – again an example where OOCL’s official stance is to not transit but where shippers might actually see their cargo being able to transit.

The FMC in the US has received requests for, and granted, special permission from APL and ONE to implement surcharges in relation to the Red Sea situation with an effective date now as opposed to the usual 30-day notice period. Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM and Hapag-Lloyd already received similar approval before New Year to file specific charges with less than 30 days notice.”