Several Israeli-linked commercial ships have diverted around the Cape to avoid sailing through the Suez Canal and Red Sea, as number of other ships are reporting having been attacked by what is assumed to be Houthi rebels.
On Sunday morning, missiles fired from the direction of Yemen struck three ships in the Red Sea. At the same time a US Navy destroyer, USS Carney, is reported to have shot down three drones during an assault lasting about an hour.
“These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security. They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world,” the US military’s Central Command said in a statement.
It added that there was every reason to believe that the attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, were enabled by Iran.
According to Central Command, USS Carney detected a missile launched from a Houthi-controlled area in Yemen, approaching and striking near the 2016-built bulk carrier Unity Explorer (IMO 9726035). Shortly afterwards the American destroyer shot down a drone heading towards the Bahamas-flagged merchant ship.
Half an hour later the bulk carrier was hit by another missile and as the USS Carney responded to her mayday call, the destroyer shot down another incoming drone.
Unity Explorer reported minor damage from the missile attack.
Two other ships reported having experienced missile attacks. The Panamanian-flagged Number 9 was struck and experienced a certain amount of damage, while the Sophie II was also struck by a missile but reported no significant damage.
USS Carney, responding to the attack on Sophie II, shot down another drone that appeared to be heading in the warship’s direction.
Only one of the ships, Unity Explorer, appears to have an Israeli link in its ownership. The Houthis claim they are preventing Israeli ships from navigating through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, in support of their “steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip.”
“The Yemeni armed forces renew their warning to all Israeli ships or those associated with Israelis that they will become a legitimate target if they violate what is stated in this statement,” said Houthi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree.
Meanwhile, the car carrier Galaxy Leader, which is owned by an Israeli but operated by a Japanese company, remains in Houthi hands outside the port of Hodeida. The ship was seized on 19 November while sailing through the Red Sea.
Another ship sailing in the affected region, the Pacific Eastern Shipping-owned CMA CGM Stymi, came under drone attack at about the same time. Pacific Eastern Shipping is controlled by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.
The situation in the Gulf of Aden and lower Red Sea region opposite the coast of Yemen has so far resulted in several ships with Israeli connections being diverted around the Cape of Good Hope.
The first to divert was the Zim Line Liberian-flagged Zim Europe (5,618-TEU) which changed course while well into the Mediterranean Sea before turning about, retracing its course back through the Gibraltar Strait, and into the Atlantic on a course for the Cape.
Zim Europe is sailing from Boston in the USA, bound for Malaysia.
Zim has since confirmed it is taking proactive steps to avoid at risk areas by rerouting these on the longer route around the Cape.
“As a result of these measures, longer transit times in the relevant Zim services are anticipated, though every effort is being made to minimise disruptions,” Zim said.
Maersk Line has withdrawn two ships with links to Israel from operating in the Red Sea or Middle East, the 4,259-TEU Lisa, and the 5,300-TEU Maersk Pangani.
Both ships have been diverted from operating in the Middle East. Maersk Pangani is deployed on the Mesawa service (India-West Africa with transshipment calls in the Middle East). The ship was diverted away from her scheduled call at Salalah and is heading to Mundra to transfer her Gulf-destined cargo onto another non-Israeli-linked Maersk ship, Maersk Iyo, waiting at Mundra.
Lisa operated the Mawingu Express service between the Indian sub-continent and East Africa via Salalah. The ship was diverted to Salalah to discharge all her cargo before heading to the Far East for redeployment.