Western nations have moved to protect shipping transiting the Red Sea as fears over the disruption to the supply chain continue.
US secretary of defence Lloyd Austin and his UK counterpart Grant Shapps have announced that a new naval task force is to be sent to the area to protect merchant shipping as attacks by Houthi rebels escalate.
Royal Navy Destroyer HMS Diamond has joined the task force which will form part of Operation Prosperity Guardian to patrol the Red Sea and Gulf of.
Alongside HMS Diamond, the task force currently includes three US destroyers, and a French warship is also in the region. All are currently operating in the Southern Red Sea with the multinational partnership focusing on protecting freedom of navigation, international trade and human life by countering illicit non-state actors in international waters. Countries including Bahrain, Norway and the Seychelles are also supporting the Operation.
The UK warned the security situation in the Red Sea is deteriorating, with the Houthi attacks – including use of ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial systems against global shipping – representing an increased threat. Over the last few days, the impact on global trade has become more acute, with major operators including Maersk and BP pausing sailing through the region due to the security risk, increasing costs and adding time to journeys.
Shapps said: “These illegal attacks are an unacceptable threat to the global economy, undermining regional security and are threatening to drive up fuel prices.
This is an international problem that requires an international solution. That is why HMS Diamond has joined Operation Prosperity Guardian. This new task force will protect shipping and vital trade routes in the Red Sea, where large amounts of goods and oil transit through to Europe and on to the UK.
“Our Royal Navy personnel are protecting British interests in an increasingly contested part of the world. Their valuable contribution to upholding peace and security should not be underestimated and we thank them for their service, especially during this festive period.”
The international coalition will operate as part of the existing construct in the Gulf: the Coalition Maritime Force (CMF). The UK contribution to that is known as Operation Kipion, which is the UK’s long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean. In addition to HMS Diamond, HMS Lancaster, a squadron of three mine hunting vessels (HMS Bangor, HMS Chiddingfold, and HMS Middleton) and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship (RFA Cardigan Bay) are also deployed as part of the operation, helping to keep the vital trade routes of the Middle East open for business.
US Defence secretary Austin was part of a meeting of43 countries to discuss the increased threat to maritime security in the Red Sea. He said: “The international community is faced with an unprecedented global challenge that demands collective action. The United States will continue to consult and work alongside allies and partners, who share the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation.
The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) welcomed the announcement of the initiation of Operation Prosperity Guardian.
“Following the seizure of the Galaxy Leader vessel, on the 19 November by Houthi forces, there has been an increasing number of attacks against merchant ships. ICS deplores these attacks, which are unacceptable acts of aggression and threaten the lives of innocent seafarers and the safety of merchant shipping,” It said. “The launch of multi-national security initiative Operation Prosperity Guardian is significant to the shipping industry as the operation will provide a coordinated suppressive response to the threat presented by Houthi actions in the Southern Red Sea.
“The full details of this operation will be shared over the coming days but we expect the taskforce to have a significant impact on the Houthi’s ability to target and attack merchant shipping. Previously we saw assets in the region operating independently against the threat, whereas now we have a coordinated effort across a large number of military warships that will provide a significant suppressive response.”
It said it welcomed the broad coalition of member states of the Operation Prosperity Guardian and urges other nations with military assets in the region to follow this lead.
“We call on member states to use their diplomatic influence and bring pressure to bear on the Houthis to de-escalate the increasingly volatile situation in the region”.
Toby Vallance, executive committee member of the London Forum of Insurance Lawyers, added: “The recent attacks by Houthis rebels on vessels present various challenges to the shipping industry, as the Red Sea is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. In response, a number of the major carriers, including Maersk, CMA CGM, Evergreen and MSC have already announced either paused shipping through the Red Sea or rerouted vessels due to safety concerns. In terms of rerouting, that alternative means going around the Cape of Good Hope, adding two weeks journey time.
“For those vessels still transiting through the Red Sea, war risk premiums are reported to have increased from 0.07% of the value of a ship in early December to 0.5%-0.7% this week. Furthermore, on Monday, the Joint War Committee expanded the high risk zone in the Red Sea from 15 degrees north to 18 degrees north.
“Both options of increased premiums and rerouting around Africa will see a knock-on effect on the price of goods (especially oil), due to a stifled global supply chain, which may be further perpetuated given the time of year.”