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CMA CGM continues to run Red Sea gauntlet

French carrier is still utilising the Bab el Mandeb with military support as major carriers pull back further

Containerships in the Red Sea are becoming increasingly rare. Maersk is now also avoiding the Gulf of Aden, while Hapag-Lloyd is looking to use a land bridge for Red Sea cargoes

CMA CGM is continuing to risk transits of the Bab el Mandeb despite increased danger in the region from Houthi attacks on shipping.

Despite rerouting several of its vessels around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the area, the French carrier has been the only one of the major global carriers to continue to use the Suez Canal routing.



Vessel-tracking data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence shows several vessels have passed the Bab el Mandeb in recent days.

CMA CGM Puget (IMO: 9248124) is in the Gulf of Aden en route from Singapore and showing the Suez Canal as its next destination, while the 18,000 teu CMA CGM Georg Forster (IMO: 9702144) has just left the Suez Canal following a transit through the Red Sea. At least two other vessels operated by the carrier are near Jeddah that have transited the Bab el Mandeb in the past 10 days.

Schedules also still show CMA CGM taking the Suez Canal route. Hapag-Lloyd’s IOS Indian Ocean service shows CMA CGM vessels routing via Suez while its own ships take the Cape of Good Hope route.

Nevertheless, not all of its trades are continuing. On Friday it confirmed its Nemo service to Australia is being rerouted around Africa.

CMA CGM’s rationale for taking the risk of putting its vessels and seafarers at risk remains unclear.

CMA CGM operated one of the first vessels to be come under attack when the Eastern Pacific Shipping-owned CMA CGM Symi (IMO: 9867839) was hit by a suspected drone attack in the Indian Ocean last November.

Freight rates and surcharges are largely covering the additional costs for carriers taking the extended route around Africa.

The additional fuel costs required are significant, but so too are war risk insurance premiums and the cost of Suez Canal transit fees. While a large carrier such as CMA CGM will unlikely be paying the 1% war risks premiums being reported, it will be facing additional costs.

The only significant difference is that CMA CGM has been able to gain military support from the French government to have its ships accompanied by warships.

Speaking to the Financial Times, chief executive Rodolphe Saadé said that vessels that could be escorted by the French Navy would still use the Red Sea route, but others would go around Africa.

Other carriers, meanwhile, are looking to alternative routing to avoid the Bab el Mandeb strait to access the Red Sea.

Hapag-Lloyd is taking an alternative to the sea route, offering a land bridge across Saudi Arabia from ports at Dammam, Jubail and Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates to the Red Sea at Jeddah. 

“This will enable the connection with our ocean shuttle service out of Jeddah,” Hapag-Lloyd said.

“While this is not the optimal solution in terms of capacity, it will offer another option to the current transit times, especially where alternative routings become excessively long.”

It said the aim was to provide a “convenient contingency solution” to overcome the closure until the situation in the Red Sea was normalised.

The spread of attacks into the Gulf of Aden, meanwhile, has prompted Maersk to cancel calls at Djibouti and to restructure its Blue Nile Express Indian Ocean service.

The service, which linked India with the UAE, Oman, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, is dropping its calls at Djibouti, Jeddah and King Abdullah port.

The amended service rotation will now be Jebel Ali-Salalah-Hazira-Nhava Sheva-Jebel Ali.

“Additionally, we are implementing a temporary suspension of bookings to and from Asia/Middle East/Oceania/East Africa/South Africa to Djibouti on this service,” Maersk said. “As such, effective immediately, any new bookings for Djibouti on this service will not be accepted.”

Maersk has also stopped taking bookings to and from Berbera in Somalia, and Hodeidah and Aden in Yemen.

Maersk has also altered its ME2 service, which had calls at Port Said in Egypt and Jeddah, so that it now takes the Cape of Good Hope route. The service, which formerly went via Suez from Jebel Ali to Algeciras and Tanger Med, then on to Valencia and Genoa, will now turn in the western Mediterranean and take the longer route, meaning calls at Salalah and Jeddah will be paused until further notice.

“The ports of Algeciras and Tangiers will be used for onward connections to northern Europe and the Mediterranean,” Maersk said.  “We are also adding a feeder for Valencia, Spain and Vado, Italy. Our hubs in Salalah and Jebel Ali will offer connections to remaining locations in the Middle East.” 

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