US leads campaign to persuade shipping companies to resume navigation in the Red Sea

US leads campaign to persuade shipping companies to resume navigation in the Red Sea

Shafaq News / The spokesperson for the US Department of Defense revealed today, Friday, the United States' efforts to "convince" shipping companies that the multinational force Washington called for ensures the security of navigation in the Red Sea and the Suez Canal amidst the Houthi attacks on ships in the southern Red Sea.

The spokesperson for the US Department of Defense for Middle East and Africa affairs, told Bloomberg, "The Pentagon is working almost daily with the maritime shipping industry to understand their needs and provide assurances that the international community is present to help provide a secure passage."

However, according to Bloomberg, these Pentagon attempts are not considered sufficient by most shipping lines, as they rely on the belief that drones or (Houthi) missiles cannot bypass defenses and hit their ships.

Retired Navy officer and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Mark Cancian, stated to the agency, "It will take some time for shipping companies to be certain of the security situation. If it becomes clear that the United States and the coalition can maintain the safety of the maritime passage, companies will return. But currently, they cannot genuinely ensure this."

He added, "Some shipping companies will be more willing to take risks than others, and those connected to Israel will be more cautious."

Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea have intensified in support of Hamas in Gaza, amid Israel's ongoing conflict with the movement. These attacks target a waterway (Bab al-Mandab Strait), which connects east and west and allows commerce, particularly oil trade, to pass through the Suez Canal, saving time and expenses compared to circumnavigating the African continent.

The attacks prompted some shipping companies to reroute their vessels away from the area in early December to avoid the region.

Several US-led countries agreed to patrol the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to protect commercial shipping from the Houthi attacks as part of the "Guardian of Prosperity" operation.

On Thursday, the US Navy in the southern Red Sea intercepted a drone and a ballistic missile targeting ships, launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to US Central Command.

Houthis state they will continue their actions "until enough food and medicine enter Gaza," which is under complete siege and ongoing Israeli bombardment in response to an unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israeli border towns on October 7.

Defense analyst, Jenny Moran, told Bloomberg that the current approach "does not address the root of the threat," adding: "It seems we are moving extremely cautiously at a time when conditions require a stronger response."

However, he clarified that the "mixed" nature of the threat, including potential attacks from drones, missiles, and small boats, makes the response "more challenging," as the ships involved in the coalition will not match the strength of US vessels.

Washington owns at least three destroyers stationed in the Red Sea, according to an analysis published earlier this month by the American magazine "Foreign Policy," while multiple countries contribute warships.

The US repeats its statements about avoiding an expanded conflict in Gaza, which has led to mutual shelling along the Israeli-Lebanese border between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, alongside targeting US bases in Iraq by Iran-backed groups.

Cancian continued, "If the United States began targeting Houthi camps, it might increase rather than decrease the risks. I do not think shipping companies, especially, want that to happen."

Following the announcement of the new alliance, the French company CMA CGM stated that some of its ships resumed crossing the Red Sea, while Maersk, the Danish shipping giant, intends to do the same, after suspending its trips due to Houthi attacks.

Maersk, in its statement on Wednesday, saw the alliance formation as "good news for the entire maritime sector," allowing the resumption of navigation. However, it stressed that "the overall danger in this area has not been lifted yet."

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