More shipping providers and their clients have paused the crucial Red Sea / Suez Canal route due to increased piracy and terrorist threats in the Bab al-Mandab Straight and southern Red Sea. 

Another ship was attacked on the morning of 18 December. Norwegian-owned Swan Atlantic was hit by an “unidentified object” but remained seaworthy, and said its crew was uninjured. Operators Uni-Tankers said a small fire onboard was quickly extinguished. 

Joining Danish container shipping giants Maersk since Friday 15 December was French group CMA CGM, German container shipping firm Hapag-Lloyd, Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), and MSC. 

On 18 December global oil firm BP said it had instructed all its shipping partners to avoid the area. It blamed the “deteriorating security situation” in the Red Sea. 

The BP announcement came shortly after Taiwanese shipping firm Evergreen Marine Corp sent a similar message to its crews. It went further, and said it was suspending orders from Israeli clients, due to threats against Israel-linked shipping. 

“For the safety of ships and crew, Evergreen Line has decided to temporarily stop accepting Israeli cargo with immediate effect, and has instructed its container ships to suspend navigation through the Red Sea until further notice,” it explained.

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By GlobalData

CMA CGM said like Maersk it had instructed its ships in the area to “pause their journey in safe waters with immediate effect until further notice.”

Yemeni Houthis have increased attacks on international shipping in the region following its proclamation of support for Hamas, amid the Israeli-Hamas conflict. 

Freight analysts have warned the effective block on the Suez Canal route would risk a situation like that seen in 2021, when the Ever Given ran aground and blocked the canal quite literally. 

If freighters are forced to sail south around the Cape of Good Hope journey times will increase by 7-10 days, and prices could double overnight. 

It remains unclear how long the Straight and Red Sea will be affected by the current security concerns, but the UK and US navies have already responded to the attacks on commercial shipping. 

According to the Suez Canal authorities 55 ships have already elected to take the far longer route via South Africa. 

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to announce the details of an expansion of the existing US task force in the region this week, and the UK Navy confirmed it shot down a drone, thought to have been launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.