MSC and CMA CGM Suspend Red Sea Transits, Joining Hapag and Maersk

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The security situation in the Red Sea is continuing to decline, prompting MSC and CMA CGM to announce that they have suspended all sailings in the region. The announcement follows similar alerts from Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd on Friday. The actions by the world’s largest container shipping companies come as the naval forces of the U.S. and UK, as well as other allies including Egypt, have all reportedly taken down drones launched from the Houthi-controlled regions of Yemen.

Saying that “The situation is further deteriorating and concern of safety is increasing,” CMA issued a statement today, December 16 reporting it is implementing preventive measures for navigation in the Red Sea. 

“We have decided to instruct all CMA CGM containerships in the area that are scheduled to pass through the Red Sea to reach safe areas and pause their journey in safe waters with immediate effect until further notice,” CMA CGM reports. The French carrier has not said what it will do with the cargo, but it follows a similar decision by Maersk which paused Red Sea sailings a day after one of its ships was attacked. Hapag-Lloyd also said yesterday it was pausing all container ship traffic through the Red Sea until Monday, reporting “Then we will decide for the period thereafter.”

On Friday, one of Hapag-Lloyd’s large containerships was ordered to sail toward Yemen. When it ignored the command, it was struck by a missile that caused some damage and a small fire. The crew was able to extinguish the fire and the vessel continued its trip leaving the danger zone.

MSC in its statement is now also confirming that its vessel the MSC Palatium III was attacked and suffered limited fire damage on Friday. The USS Mason reported going to the assistance of the containership but said the vessel later advised it did not require additional assistance. MSC reported today that the vessel is being taken out of service. A recent AIS signal shows the ship traveled west in the Gulf of Aden and is now stopped in Djibouti.

“Due to this incident and to protect the lives and safety of our seafarers, until the Red Sea passage is safe, MSC ships will not transit the Suez Canal Eastbound and Westbound,” the company wrote in a Customer Advisory. “Already now, some services will be rerouted to go via the Cape of Good Hope instead.”

The decision to suspend sailings through the Red Sea comes as the security situation in the area continues to deteriorate. Security consultants and the international alliance in the region are all confirming an escalation in the attacks coming from the Houthi. 

U.S. CENTCOM reported on Saturday that the guided missile destroyer USS Carney had downed a total of 14 drones in the early morning hours coming from Yemen. They wrote in a social media message that “the UAS were assessed to be one-way attack drones and were shot down with no damage to ships in the area.”

Previously the confirmed shootdowns were limited to only a few drones or often individual crafts aimed at specific ships. In addition to the U.S., France earlier in the week reported one of its vessels had shot down drones and today, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps reported overnight the HMS Diamond had also taken down a suspected attack drone that was targeting merchant shipping in the Red Sea. HMS Diamond was just redeployed to the region and reached the Red Sea in recent days after being ordered to make a fast turnaround and depart the UK to bolster efforts in the region.  

The U.S. Department of Defense is also reporting that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will be visiting the region over the weekend with stops in Israel, Qatar, and Bahrain. While in Bahrain, Austin is expected to visit U.S. Naval Forces Central Command where a spokesperson said part of the discussions will involve U.S. efforts to convene multilateral coalitions to respond to aggression at sea that threatens shipping and the global economy.

“We will talk with them in a multinational framework about the work we’re doing, particularly in light of increasing Houthi aggression in the Red Sea,” the official said. 

The concern is that the Houthis will also continue to widen their attacks in an effort to draw others into the war against Israel. The Jerusalem Post reported that some of the drones were attacking the southern Israel port city of Eilat. The newspaper is citing witnesses in the town of Dahab on Egypt’s eastern Sinai coast who said they saw two drones taken down with one failing into the sea. Israel had previously reported in late October a drone attack that caused explosions in two towns near the Red Sea.

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