Maritime Opinion: Indecision rules in the Red Sea

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(www.MaritimeCyprus.com) How long is the shipping industry going to put up with the part closure of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, because of the ongoing Houthi attacks on its vessels? And not just the industry, because the diversions occasioned by the actions of this criminal gang are costing the whole world a great deal of money. Another two ships were set on fire by their missiles and drones last weekend, so it would seem that their aim is improving with practice.

Is there any sort of policy emerging among the more capable governments to contain or even defeat these pirates? Or is there any more than a vague hope that they will run out of ammunition, lose interest, or return to their normal criminal activities of smuggling and extortion on land? There is something rather depressing about the fact that other than the US and UK, none of the nations which have warships in the area seem prepared to do anything other than defend against Houthi attacks. The car carrier Galaxy Leader still lies off the coast, her poor crew hostages for more than six months. Only good fortune has kept the deaths and injuries aboard attacked ships down to single figures. The responsible owners of the world are settling in to the two additional weeks steaming between Europe and the Far East, with no prospect of anything different. Others take their chances.

For Houthi “high command” (if that is what those  posing and posturing in their video presentations can be termed), their campaign must be considered a tremendous success. They can continue their attacks, in just sufficient numbers to dissuade the responsible lines from resuming Red Sea passages, and frightening those whose vessels run the gauntlet into paying large sums in insurance and war bonuses. And while they began their campaign with more selective threats against vessels with Israeli connections, it now appears that their intelligence is less particular, or perhaps more slapdash, in its choice of targets. It would seem to be immaterial.

Is there any reaction in the governments of the civilised world against this miserable stasis? It might be observed that with seemingly half of them engaged in elections, the chances of any more robust action would appear remote. Meanwhile, the Houthis’ paymasters in Iran, who have read and digested manuals of how, through hybrid warfare, weaker states can prevail against materially superior enemies, will be maintaining their supply lines. It is also worth pointing out that the lessons of the Houthi’s success and the ability of a small rebel enclave in a failed state to cause such material harm for such a modest expenditure will not be lost in other grim places, where potential enemies await their chances.

The costs of all these diverted long-haul passages are already being seen around the world. It might be good business for those operating ships, but freight rates have now reached post-pandemic levels and will not be descending any time soon. Those who use ships, which is indirectly most of us, will be already feeling the pain. And think of the economy of Egypt, with the canal working part-time and those ambitious plans for industry along its banks   prejudiced by the ongoing conflict.

Why is there such reluctance for more robust action and why are all those who might be prepared to defend their ships against incoming missiles, so afraid of striking back? Fear of the conflict spreading?   But what about the seafarers (and their relatives) when they are told that they are bound through the Red Sea? Are they not deserving of consideration? Do the hesitant never think about the example that this is setting to all those malevolent players? To any earlier generation, such a failure to tolerate such a nest of pirates along an important sea lane would have been impossible to contemplate.

 

Source: Michael Grey

Michael Grey is former editor of Lloyd’s List

 

 

 

 

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