UK to join US-led operation to safeguard Red Sea amid rebel attacks - as BP halts oil shipments over security concerns

18 December 2023, 22:14 | Updated: 2 January 2024, 07:49

Yemen's Houthis are warning that they will target cargo vessels sailing through the Red Sea
Yemen's Houthis are warning that they will target cargo vessels sailing through the Red Sea. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The United Kingdom is to join an American-led operation to defend the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the US has announced.

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US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has said that a rise in rebel attacks in the Red Sea were an "international challenge that demands collective action".

A series of raids have been carried out in the Red Sea over the last few weeks, including drone and ballistic missile attacks, coming from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The Houthi group, based in Yemen, is backed by Iran and openly supports Hamas.

The United Kingdom will be joined by Canada, France, Italy, Bahrain, the Netherlands, Seychelles, Spain, and Norway in the US-led coalition.

Other participating nations have chosen to remain anonymous.

"Today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multi-national security initiative," Mr Austin said today.

It comes after BP announced that it had halted oil shipments through the Red Sea amid growing concerns over rebel attacks.

Yemen's Huthi-affiliated security forces stand guard during a march in solidarity with the people of Gaza in the capital Sanaa
Yemen's Huthi-affiliated security forces stand guard during a march in solidarity with the people of Gaza in the capital Sanaa. Picture: Getty

BP said it had witnessed a "deteriorating security situation" for its shipments.

Iranian-backed Houthi militants are understood to be targeting ships using the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, with the pro-Hamas group seeking to disrupt ships set for Israel.

"In our trading & shipping business, as in all BP businesses, the safety and security of our people and those working on our behalf is BP's priority," a spokesperson for BP said.

"In light of the deteriorating security situation for shipping in the Red Sea, BP has decided to temporarily pause all transits through the Red Sea.

"We will keep this precautionary pause under ongoing review, subject to circumstances as they evolve in the region."

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Several shipping firms have already paused container shipments through the area due to the surge in attacks.

Danish firm Maersk said it would suspend its activity in the region following a near miss involving one of its ships on Thursday.

Guy Platten, Secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, told LBC News: “Shipping companies are evaluating the situation on an hour-by hour-basis.

"We heard on Friday and Saturday that Maersk, MSC, Hapag Lloyd amongst others have all paused traffic going through the Red Sea.

"We know others are considering their options as well and quite frankly we're deploring the actions of what's going on.

"It's flagrant breach of international law and the concern of shipping companies is going to be about their seafarers and that's why they're rapidly evaluating the situation."

It comes after a British-owned ship was previously hit by a missile in the Red Sea.

The Bahamas-flagged Unity Explorer, which is owned by a British company, was one of three commercial vessels targeted in a drone and missile assault at the start of the month.

US military Central Command said the ship sustained minor damage in the attack.

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