Denmark’s Maersk has scheduled several dozen container vessels to travel via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the coming days and weeks, further indicating that global shipping firms are returning to a critical trade artery. The world’s top shipping companies, including container giants Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, stopped using Red Sea routes after Yemen’s Houthi militant group began targeting vessels earlier this month, disrupting global trade. The US-led military campaign to protect ships — Operation Prosperity Guardian — is nearing completion, and some shipping lines are starting to bring ships back to the Red Sea after taking longer routes around the Cape of Good Hope.
The move by Maersk prompted speculation that other major shipping companies may soon follow suit, though some still say it is too early to return to the route. The Red Sea is used for over 30% of all shipping containers from Asia to Europe.
Maersk spokesman Palle Brodsgaard Laursen said the company was “pleased to see the global governments reacting promptly with joint efforts on international maritime security and capacity building in the area.” He added that it remained difficult to determine when it could safely resume voyages through the region but that it would consider resuming travel via the Red Sea after reviewing the situation on Friday.
Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd said it remained cautious about the security situation in the Red Sea and planned to continue its diverted routes until further notice. It warned that the alternative Cape of Good Hope route, which adds 3,500 nautical miles to a trip from Asia to Northern Europe, is less efficient because of higher transport costs.
Hapag-Lloyd and Maersk are among the largest shipping companies in the world, and their decisions on whether to resume the use of the Red Sea will significantly impact supply chains. The shipping behemoths’ announcement came a day after a container ship was attacked in the region by drones while transiting the southern Red Sea. The attack sparked the operation to protect ships in the area and was followed by warnings from some countries of increased attacks on cargo ships.
As the crisis unfolds, some shipping lines are increasing their deployment of vessels — and imposing surcharges on customers — to offset increased costs. One of the biggest, Switzerland-based MSC, announced last week that it would impose a $700 transit disruption charge and a $500 peak season surcharge on all container shipments from China to Northern Europe until the Red Sea is safe for passage.
Some carriers are also considering rerouting vessels through the Red Sea at night rather than during daylight hours, hoping that it will make them more challenging targets for drones. A suggestion was made in the advice given to shipping at the start of Operation Prosperity Guardian, which urged vessels to sail only during the hours when drones would be less active. However, there may need to be more to help, as experts say drones can operate at night even when the skies are clear.