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Red Sea container, dry cargo ship traffic plunges amid attacks

January 17, 2024 at 3:38 pm

A screen grab captured from a video shows that cargo ship “Galaxy Leader”, co-owned by an Israeli company, being hijacked by Iran-backed Houthis from Yemen in the Red Sea on November 20, 2023 [Houthis Media Center – Anadolu Agency]

The container and dry cargo ship traffic through the Red Sea has posted a significant decline as shipping companies are forced to suspend their voyages through this route or divert it to the Cape of Good Hope, Anadolu Agency reports.

While daily container vessel traffic through the Red Sea halved on 1-10 January, compared to the same period last year, total ship traffic decreased 25 per cent with a significant decline in dry cargo ships, according to data compiled by Anadolu from MarineTraffic, a ship tracking and maritime analytics provider.

Houthis in Yemen have targeted commercial ships in the Red Sea in retaliation for Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Last Thursday, the US and UK launched joint strikes on military targets associated with Houthis.

The Red Sea route accounts for nearly 12 per cent of global seaborne trade traffic.

The number of containers in the Red Sea decreased to 118 this 1-10 January from 248 in the same period last year.

READ: Ships declare no links to Israel to avoid being targeted by Houthis

Dry cargo ship traffic in the Red Sea decreased by 5 per cent, year-on-year, on 1-10 January. The figure was down 53 per cent on 10 January from the beginning of this year.

While 45 dry cargo ships were sailing in the region on 1-6 January, this number decreased to 21 as of 10 January.

Tanker transits down

Speaking to Anadolu, Matthew Wright, senior analyst at ship tracking service, Kpler, said there are no container ships over 15,000 TEU in the area due to the joint airstrikes on Yemen that the US and UK launched last week.

“On the bulk commodity side, tankers, dry bulk and LNG flows have been less affected, although transits via the Suez Canal are lower since the first diversions in December. Tanker transits are down around 15 per cent, for example,” he said.

The figure is expected to increase further following the warnings to avoid the area for fear of retaliation, Wright noted, adding: “It’s still too early to make many conclusions on the impact on vessel movements. As most container traffic was already avoiding the Red Sea, the impact will be minimal. But, for bulk carriers, we expect to see a larger drop than seen over the last three weeks.”

Steep hike in spot market freight rates

Simon Heaney, senior manager at Container Research of UK-based maritime research and consulting services provider, Drewry, said: “There is only limited scope for more Cape of Good Hope diversions as most container ships that were using Suez have been rerouted.”

Pointing to the steep hike in spot market freight rates as an immediate outcome of the attacks, Heaney said Drewry’s World Container Index on Shanghai to Rotterdam subset jumped by 164 per cent from $1,667/40ft container on 21 December to $4,406/40ft on 11 January.

The figure saw a similar trend for Shanghai to Genoa, he added.

“The cost of hiring container ships has also increased, but much less severely, so far, as more vessels are required to cover the extra mileage from Cape diversions,” Heaney said.

READ: Qatar tells WEF in Davos that Red Sea crisis will not be defused without first resolving Gaza crisis

On the impact of the diversion on the world economy, he said the freighter rates are not expected to get near to their levels during the pandemic period.

“The cost implication of the Red Sea attacks on commercial ships depends on the duration of the attacks,” Heaney said.

The delays and ship diversions will cause ships to cluster at ports, leading to port congestion and worsening equipment shortages and gaps in sailings, he stressed.

“These effects may significantly impact global supply chains, taking weeks or months to recover. Carriers must adjust schedules, networks and potentially introduce additional vessels to insure weekly service frequency,” he added.

Heaney highlighted that if Suez has to be avoided all year around, the container ship capacity will drop 9 per cent globally.

“In the worst-case scenario, whereby Suez has to be avoided for the entirety of 2024, assuming a 30 per cent increase in trade distance for the roughly 30 per cent of container ship capacity that previously transited Suez, that would reduce effective capacity by some 9 per cent globally.”

He noted that this situation is not expected to completely shutter the supply and demand on a global level.

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