Maersk Suspends U.S.-Flagged Shipping After Houthis Attack Again

2024-01-25 08:41:21

Danish shipping giant Maersk on Wednesday suspended U.S.-flagged shipping through the Red Sea after the latest missile attack by Iran-backed Houthi terrorists.

The U.S. Navy intercepted the Houthi missiles, but two Maersk vessels still reversed course due to safety concerns, and the company said no more of its ships would attempt the Red Sea transit under American flags.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said the Houthis launched three anti-ship ballistic missiles at the “U.S.-flagged, owned, and operated container ship MV Maersk Detroit” at roughly 2:00 p.m. local time on Wednesday as the ship was passing through the Gulf of Aden.

“One missile impacted in the sea. The two other missiles were successfully engaged and shot down by the USS Gravely (DDG 107). There were no reported injuries or damage to the ship,” CENTCOM said.

The USS Gravely is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer. The Gravely has intercepted Houthi missiles on several occasions.

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) sails alongside the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) during maneuvering exercises with the Finnish Navy in the Baltic Sea, May 16, 2022. Kearsarge, flagship of the Kearsarge ARG/MEU team, is on a scheduled deployment under the command and control of Task Force 61/2 while operating in U.S. Sixth Fleet in support of U.S., Allied and partner interests in Europe and Africa.

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely in the Baltic Sea on May 16, 2022. (MC3 Taylor Parker/USN)

Maersk said in a statement to the media that MV Maersk Detroit and another U.S.-flagged ship, MV Maersk Chesapeake, were passing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait under U.S. Navy escort when the crew witnessed explosions in the vicinity. The Navy instructed both Maersk vessels to reverse course and retreat from the strait.

Maersk said the U.S. Navy accompaniment for its ships “intercepted multiple projectiles” and that both the vessels and crew were “safe and unharmed.”

A report received by United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) suggested a Houthi missile detonated within 100 meters of one of the commercial vessels on Wednesday.

“The U.S. Navy has turned both ships around and is escorting them back to the Gulf of Aden,” the company said. As of Thursday morning, ship tracking data showed MV Maersk Chesapeake had returned to Oman.

“Following the escalation of risk, MLL [Maersk Line Limited] is suspending transits in the region until further notice,” the company said. “The safety of our crews is of utmost importance.”

“We are developing network contingencies and will keep you informed,” MLL told its customers.

Maersk said both of its ships were carrying cargo for U.S. government agencies, including the Defense Department, State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Houthi spokesman Yahya Sarea claimed the missiles launched by his forces were aimed at American warships during a “clash” that lasted for more than two hours and ended with a direct hit on a U.S. Navy vessel, forcing the two civilian ships to flee the area.

“Several of our ballistic missiles struck their targets despite [the] warships’ attempts to intercept them,” Sarea said, a claim denied by U.S. government officials.

Shipping analysts told Reuters on Wednesday that carriers have not been reassured by the Biden administration’s “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” and the “feeling of vulnerability” will likely increase after Wednesday’s incident.

“The feedback from the captains is certainly on the container trades, they are much happier to go around the Cape,” said International Transport Workers’ Federation General Secretary Stephen Cotton, referring to the much longer alternate route around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. 

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