In the aftermath of a targeted assault on the Maersk container ship Maersk Hangzhou by Houthi forces, Maersk has decided to suspend all Red Sea transits until further notice. The 15,282 TEU vessel fell victim to the attack in the Bab-al Mandab Strait, situated in the eastern part of the Red Sea, during its westbound journey from Singapore to Port Said and the Adriatic on the ‘AE12’ / ‘Phoenix’ service of the 2M partners Maersk and MSC.
The incident, which occurred on December 31, has led Maersk to reevaluate its recent decision to gradually reintroduce Suez Canal and Red Sea routings. An ongoing investigation into the attack has prompted the shipping giant to prioritize the safety of its cargo and vessels.
Maersk released a statement on January 2, stating, “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 the most sense for our customers, vessels will be rerouted and continue their journey around the Cape of Good Hope.”
According to Maersk’s contingency schedules, approximately half of the affected services will be rerouted via the Cape of Good Hope, while the other half remains either under review or will continue through the Red Sea. This cautious approach aligns with the evolving security situation in the region.
According to CNBC, Maersk shares have climbed, with shipping firms set to benefit from ongoing disruption to global trade. Furthermore, freight rates are “increasing significantly and they will be increasing more than whatever the cost will be to sail around Africa,” said Mikkel Emil Jensen, senior analyst at Sydbank.
Notably, other major carriers such as MSC and Hapag-Lloyd have also opted to divert all Asia–Europe services to the longer Cape route via South Africa, emphasizing the heightened concerns about the security of the Red Sea route.
In response to the disruption, Hapag-Lloyd is anticipated to establish ad hoc voyages to ensure continued service to Jeddah and Aqaba. These voyages will ‘feeder’ cargo to and from these ports via Tanger Med and/or Damietta. Notably, these ships will navigate the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aden but will avoid the eastern entrance to the Red Sea, the Bab-al Mandab Strait, which is currently considered the most perilous waters in the region.
The decision to indefinitely suspend Red Sea sailings reflects the shipping industry’s prioritization of security and the ongoing challenges posed by geopolitical tensions in the area. Maersk’s proactive measures aim to ensure the safety and continuity of its operations while the investigation unfolds.