Exclusive

'Becoming impossible' to protect crews after first fatal attack on shipping by Houthis in Red Sea, expert tells LBC

7 March 2024, 11:46

This black-and-white image released by the US military's Central Command shows the fire aboard the bulk carrier True Confidence after a missile attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden o
This black-and-white image released by the US military's Central Command shows the fire aboard the bulk carrier True Confidence after a missile attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden o. Picture: Alamy
Guy Stewart

By Guy Stewart

The UK Chamber of Shipping has told LBC it's becoming "almost impossible" to protect crews from Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

This comes after the first fatal attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels on shipping which threatens to further sever a crucial maritime artery for global trade and carries with it risks beyond those at sea.

Industry leaders have told LBC they understand a huge military response would be needed to guarantee safety in such a large area.

Director of Policy at UK Chamber of Shipping Peter Aylott told LBC crew members have been waiting for the disruption to become deadly.

He said: “To a certain extent, it's been luck that has prevailed that we've waited until now to see deaths.

“We've had 50% reduction in transit through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. I think the message now will be that that needs to reduce again.

“It's not for me to tell charters and ship owners to avoid the Red Sea, but very clearly the danger there is at a level where I hope they think very carefully before allowing ships to proceed through that region.

“Wednesday’s events will make people look very hard again, whether their commitments, commercial or otherwise, mean they're prepared to go through the Red Sea. I would see the trajectory of vessels proceeding through there now starting to tick down again, having seen it gone down 50% or so already.”

The shipping expert told LBC he doesn’t think escalation in the region will turn into “pandemic-like” shortages in British shops, but admitted it will undoubtedly have an impact.

Read more: Houthis kill three cargo ship crew members with missile strike, the first casualties of attacks on merchant vessels

Read more: British cargo ship sinks after Houthi missile attack in Red Sea - becoming first vessel destroyed in rebels' campaign

Tom condemns pro-Houthi chants after the group reportedly kill two sailers in Yemen attacks

“There are some industries that might have a medium to longer-term change. Gas carriers that used to run through the Red Sea obviously can take longer to come to Europe. There were predictions of a 0.7% increase in inflation, but the reality is it hasn't upticked because of events in the Red Sea and I don't think it's going to, I think shipping has aligned itself within different trade pattern. It's delivering those goods in time even with the time taken to get from A to B being longer by an extra 14 or so days.

“Generally speaking, a lot of that cost can be absorbed, but at some point, it might cause a little bit of pressure, but I'm not convinced that we're really going to see a change in what's in our supermarket. So, it's not going to be like the pandemic in terms of supply.”

A Houthi fighter carrying a rifle walks to attend a rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the recent Houthi strikes on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden
A Houthi fighter carrying a rifle walks to attend a rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the recent Houthi strikes on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Picture: Getty

The attack on the Barbados-flagged Liberian-owned bulk carrier True Confidence in the Gulf of Aden killed at least three people, according to US officials.

At least four crew members were injured, of which three are in critical condition.

A US warship and the Indian navy, which were both on the scene, assisted rescue efforts.

The White House is already warning there will be a response to Wednesday's attack on the ship.

The US military's Central Command said an anti-ship ballistic missile launched from a Houthi-controlled area in Yemen struck the commercial ship, causing significant damage.

Three crew members were killed and at least four crew members were injured, with survivors forced to abandon the vessel following the attack, US officials said.

What the US response will look like remains unclear, but it has already launched round after round of airstrikes targeting the Houthis, a rebel group that has held Yemen's capital since 2014, and more are likely to be on their way.

But there is already a wider economic, humanitarian and political impact looming from the attack.

It also further highlights Yemen's years-long war, now overshadowed by Israel's grinding conflict with Hamas in Gaza that may reach into the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, raising the danger of worsening regional anger.

Shapps says RAF will continue strikes until Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping end

Mr Aylott said the situation is very complex both commercially and defensively, but industry bosses are being kept up to date with the military response in the region.

He told LBC: “There's Operation Prosperity Guardian now, which is a taskforce between the US, UK and other states.

“There’s also the EU's Operation Aspides, which is bringing some European assets to that region. Clearly, it's a very large area and even all those assets from those countries would really struggle to be able to protect every vessel going through that region. So, I think the industry understands that.

“You would need a lot more assets to be able to do that to give any confidence to a shipowner or charter that their vessel would be safe on that passage.”

UK and US launch strikes against Houthis after surge in attacks on shipping

Since the onset of the Houthi attacks, the rebels have framed them as a way to pressure Israel to stop the war, which has killed more than 30,700 Palestinians, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The war began on October 7 with a Hamas attack in Israel that killed about 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage.

But as shipping companies began avoiding the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, the rebels began attacking ships with tenuous, or no ties to Israel or the war.

Meanwhile, US and coalition warships have shot down any Houthi fire that has come near them.

This has left the rebels targeting commercial ships whose only protection has been armed guards, barbed-wire fencing and water cannons - good enough to deter pirates, but not an anti-ship ballistic missile.

Wednesday's attack underlines the danger to those not even involved in the war. The Houthi missile that hit the True Confidence killed two Filipinos and one Vietnamese national. The Iranian-backed Houthis have not acknowledged these deaths and sought to distance themselves from any consequence of their actions.

"We hold America responsible for the repercussions of everything that happens," Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam wrote online.

Another ship sank this past weekend after being abandoned following a Houthi attack.

Already, the Houthis have attacked at least one ship carrying aid bound for territory they hold.

The Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier Sea Champion had been full of grain from Argentina and was bound for Aden and then rebel-held Hodeida when it was hit in February.

As hunger stalks the Gaza Strip during the Israel war, so too does it still grip Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country.

"The escalation of the crisis in the Red Sea is likely to worsen the food insecurity situation in Yemen in 2024, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis," the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned.

Then there are the conflicts gripping East Africa. The World Food Programme issued a warning on Tuesday regarding its operations in Somalia, saying the shipping crisis was hindering its ability to "maintain its regular flow of humanitarian aid".

In war-torn Sudan, the International Rescue Committee said it had suspended its operations to Port Sudan over hiked costs and other concerns rising from the Houthi attacks.

Then there is the economic pressure. While Israel has described its economy as so far unaffected, the same cannot be said for neighbouring Egypt. Traffic in its Suez Canal linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea onwards to Europe has dropped by nearly half, according to UN figures.

These shipping fees provide crucial revenue for Egypt's government, which has allowed the Egyptian pound to rapidly devalue as it reached a deal with the International Monetary Fund to increase its bailout loan. Further economic turmoil could spark unrest in Egypt, less than 15 years on from the 2011 Arab Spring.

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

Kings College Hospital NHS Trust is one of two London Hospitals affected by the hackers

Russian hackers publish NHS patients' details and blood test results online after London hospital cyber attack

Bardia Shojaeifard

'Outwardly normal' boy, 15, who murdered teenager Alfie Lewis named for first time as judge lifts anonymity

Helicopters, sniffer dogs and 4x4s have been deployed in the search for Jay Slater.

Helicopters and sniffer dogs deployed as Spanish authorities focus on new terrain in search for missing Jay Slater

Former Man United footballer Nicky Butt sentenced after breaking motorcyclist's leg in horror Range Rover crash

Former Man United footballer Nicky Butt sentenced after breaking motorcyclist's leg in horror Range Rover crash

Nick Adderley has been sacked after panel found him guilty of gross misconduct and lying

Police chief who wore fake Falklands medal found guilty of gross misconduct and sacked for lying

Anthony Hill disappeared on Monday morning

Body found by police searching for Martin Lewis' MoneySavingExpert colleague Anthony Hill

Just Stop Oil plans major disruption to summer holidays with private jet stunt just the start

Eco mob Just Stop Oil plots summer holiday chaos as group targets airports - labelling private jet stunt a 'prelude'

A British man has been stabbed to death outside Oxygen nightclub in Spain

Brit, 31, suffers ‘violent death’ after being stabbed in fight outside Spanish nightclub

Internet sleuths have flooded social media pages with speculation about Jay Slater's disappearance.

Web sleuths bombard social media pages with conspiracy theories as search for missing Jay Slater enters day five

Princess Kate wishes William happy birthday as she shares adorable family photo amid cancer battle

Princess Kate wishes William happy birthday as she shares adorable family photo amid cancer battle

Jay Slater Tenerife timeline: Hunt for missing British teen Jay Slater enters fifth day - here's what we know

Tenerife timeline: Hunt for missing British teen Jay Slater enters fifth day as Guardia Civill release search footage

Italian football legend Roberto Baggio was hospitalised after a gang attacked him in his home

Football legend Roberto Baggio hospitalised after gang targeted him and his family in terrifying raid at his home

Emily Atack has given birth to her first child - Barney James Garner

'All my dreams have come true': TV star Emily Atack welcomes son Barney with boyfriend Alistair Garner

A friend of missing Jay Slater has said the Spanish police are 'not doing a good enough job' in the search.

Police slammed for ‘not doing enough’ in hunt for missing Jay Slater as friends ‘take search effort into own hands’

Live
Davies said it is “quite difficult to suspend somebody in the middle of an election campaign anyway”

General Election LIVE: Tories found breaking gambling rules should be 'kicked out' says Cabinet minister

Rob Burrow left a series of messages for his children to be shared with them as they grow up, his wife has revealed.

Rob Burrow recorded messages to be shared with children during special life moments as they grow up, his wife reveals