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Vessel traffic down 20% in Red Sea due to rerouting

January 8, 2024 at 2:19 pm

Members of the Yemeni Coast Guard affiliated with the Houthi group patrol the sea as demonstrators march through the Red Sea port city of Hodeida in solidarity with the people of Gaza on January 4, 2024, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. [AFP via Getty Images]

Ship traffic in the Red Sea decreased by 20 per cent in December 2023, as shipping companies suspended their operations or shifted their routes to the Cape of Good Hope after the Houthis in Yemen attacked commercial vessels in the Red Sea related to Israel-Hamas conflicts.

Yemen’s Houthi group, officially known as Ansar Allah, has significantly stepped up its involvement in the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

The group has warned it will attack all Israeli-bound ships in the Red Sea – one of the world’s most frequently used sea routes for oil and fuel shipments – in a bid to support Palestinians as they face Israel’s aggression and siege in Gaza.

Several of the world’s largest container companies have suspended operations in the region.

According to data obtained by Anadolu from MarineTraffic, a ship tracking and maritime analytics provider, following the Houthi attacks, ship traffic decreased noticeably, especially in the second half of December 2023, as many shipping companies decided to stop their operations there.

READ: Houthi leader slams BBC for describing group’s naval activity as ‘much ado about nothing’

The most influential factor in the decline in traffic in the Red Sea was that container ships stopped transiting the Red Sea and turned their routes to the Cape of Good Hope.

According to MarineTraffic data, the number of container ships passing through the Red Sea in December 2023 decreased by 25 per cent compared to the number of ships in December 2022.

In this period, the number of ro-ro vessels (roll on/roll off: vessels transporting wheeled cargo) passing through the Red Sea also decreased by 25 per cent, while there was no significant change in the number of liquefied natural gas, LPG and dry cargo vessels.

Following the attacks in the Bab El-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea, the Danish shipping company, Maersk, the world’s largest container company, the Italian-Swiss Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), the German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, the French shipping company CMA CGM and the British energy company, BP, decided to suspend their operations in the region.

Following these companies’ decisions, daily ship traffic in the Red Sea decreased by 20 per cent in the second half of December 2023 compared to the first half of the month.

Ship traffic in the Red Sea declined rapidly as of 16 December, 2023.

While the number of ships travelling in the Red Sea was 646 on 1 December, this number increased to 681 on 16 December and dropped to 521 on 31 December.

Crossings through the Cape of Good Hope up 27 per cent

Following the redirection of container ships’ transits in the Red Sea to the Cape of Good Hope, ship transits through the Cape of Good Hope increased by 27 per cent in the week of 25-31 December compared to the previous week.

Container ships account for 40 per cent of all arrivals to Israel by sea from abroad by volume, while the number of container ships docking in the country decreased by 11 per cent and 16 per cent year-on-year in November and December 2023, respectively.

Taiwanese container shipping company, Evergreen, and Hong Kong-based OOCL suspended deliveries to Israeli ports while Maersk and MSC resumed.

READ: China’s COSCO suspends shipping to Israel

Maersk announced on 5 January, after one of its ships was attacked by the Houthis, that it had decided to divert all of its ships transiting the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden from around the Cape of Good Hope to the south in the near future.

Ioannis Papadimitriou, senior freight analyst at data analytics company, Vortexa, told an Anadolu correspondent that the number of international trade tankers passing through the Bab El Mandeb Strait has dropped by more than 15 per cent in the second half of December 2023 compared to the first half.

Papadimitriou said that transits through the Suez Canal and the Bab El Mandeb Strait were higher in December 2023 compared to the same month last year and this is normal due to the change in trade routes after the embargo imposed by the European Union and G7 countries on Russian oil.

However, he noted a slight decrease was seen in vessel traffic in the first half and second half of December 2023.

12 per cent of global trade passes through the Suez Canal

Approximately 12 per cent of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, with more than 50 ships crossing the canal every day, carrying around $10 billion worth of goods to Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and the east coast of North America.

For 154 years, the Suez Canal has offered the shortest route between Europe and Asia, connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.

The Bab El Mandeb Strait, which formed part of the connection between the Mediterranean and East Asia with the construction of the Suez Canal in northern Egypt, is particularly critical for the supply of oil transported by sea.

The Bab El Mandeb Strait accounts for 10 per cent of the world’s supply of crude oil and petroleum products transported by sea.

Redirecting the route of the ships to the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa means an increase in travel time by 10-14 days and 4,000 nautical miles (6,500 kilometres).

Such a longer operation costs around $1 million in extra fuel costs, while insurance costs and delivery time also increase.

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