What is happening in the Red Sea?

We know that about half of all shipping passing through the Suez via the Bab-el-Mandeb strait is containerized traffic, as well as heavily used Crude Oil and LPG carriers from the Persian Gulf to China and other ports in the Far East.

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International shipping lanes

Since late November 2023, Houthi rebels in Yemen, in response to the conflict in Gaza, have targeted cargo ships with links to Israel, according to many commentators. At first, India and a number of maritime countries sent their navy vessels to stabilize the situation. Not surprisingly, the US, UK, and some other nations wanted a show of strength to protect the international trade route through the Suez Canal, adding their concern. On Thursday, January 11, 2024, some say 73 airstrikes were carried out in retaliation on the Houthi drones and targets, destroying many.

I need hardly mention that everywhere in the world where there is a crucial trade route to shipping, whether in the Malacca Strait, the South China Sea, or the Suez, there is a domineering presence by nations, including the West, on the pretext of “protection” of free trade routes.

I discovered this for myself when I traveled by the Norwegian freighter, M.V. “Francisville,” en route to New York in August 1957 to continue my studies on scholarship in the US. This vessel was the first to be allowed access through the Suez for a friendly nation to the Egyptians after President Abdel Nasser’s Suez Canal blockade.

Half of the world’s shipping passes through the Suez Canal?

We know that about half of all shipping passing through the Suez via the Bab-el-Mandeb strait is containerized traffic, as well as heavily used Crude Oil and LPG carriers from the Persian Gulf to China and other ports in the Far East. The steaming time via the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa can easily add 10 to 14 days of the journey and is more costly for containerized cargoes. Maersk Shipping, Evergreen, and MSC, as well as BP oil tankers, have tried to re-route their trade because of the safety of navigation at sea via the Cape route. Besides, air cargoes are also claiming some share of the traffic for perishables to avoid deterioration, even some demand-sensitive goods that can bear the cost. Additionally, there is the increased cost of fuel for shipping cargoes around the Cape, as well as an increased cost of P & I insurance due to a longer journey.

We learn that container freight prices have increased due to weaker demands, and there are added high inventory costs for trade. This is happening at a time when Europe, the UK, and the US are struggling to contain spiraling inflation.

Lots of General Elections around the world?

The year 2024 coincides with many General Elections around many countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, and India, among others.

Besides, there are too many wars across Europe and the Middle East as well. Further, the US/UK and some allies are at war with the Houthi’s of Yemen. Some 73 airstrikes were carried out on the Houthi military strongholds on 11 November 2024 from their bases at Akrotiri in Cyprus by air and sea, destroying Houthi drones and their bases.

A regional widening of the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza?

This is a regional widening of the war in Gaza. Although Yemen has enjoyed more than a year of calm amid a UN-led peace initiative with the Saudis holding talks with the Houthi’s, in a bid to exit their regional war. But now, the Houthi attacks on shipping in retaliation to Israel’s war in Gaza have indirectly increased the risks of conflict to shipping as well as to Saudi Arabia. The Houthi’s claim their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea area is a show of support for the Palestinians and Hamas in particular; they insist it is against Israel.

The Houthi ties with Iran? Commentators have claimed that the Houthi’s have built ties with Iran, but it is not clear from a layman’s point of view how deep this relationship goes. The Saudis accuse Iran of arming and training the Houthi’s. This charge has been denied by both. The Houthi’s deny they are “puppets” of any state and maintain they are fighting a corrupt system in the Middle East. The Houthi’s, however, state according to observers, that they are “motivated” by a “Regional Axis of Resistance” against Israel. Will it last the test of time? Now, this conflict has escalated into a bigger issue. Turkey has now criticized the US and UK. Millions of Muslims around the world are no doubt concerned about Israel’s extraordinary retaliation on Gaza. When will all this end in some show of settlement among Israel and its neighbors? When will the Middle East return to normalcy of some sort of limited war? Is war the only solution?

Victor Cherubim

Victor Cherubim is a London-based writer and a frequent columnist of the Sri Lanka Guardian

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