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Maersk suspends US-flag operations in Red Sea after two ships targeted

Two US-flagged ships carrying government cargo under escort were attacked while transiting Bab el Mandeb

Maersk is suspending Red Sea operations for its US-flagged vessels after two ships under naval escort came under attack and reported nearby explosions. A company spokesperson said there were no injuries or damage and that the accompanying US navy ship intercepted ‘multiple projectiles’

TWO US-flagged Maersk boxships carrying US government cargo and under US naval protection were targeted while transiting the Bab el Mandeb on Wednesday, leading the Danish company to halt Red Sea operations of its US-flagged business Maersk Line Limited after rerouting the rest of its fleet since the beginning of the month. 

A spokesperson said crew on both vessels — Maersk Detroit (IMO: 9333034) and Maersk Chesapeake (IMO: 9356074) — were unharmed, as were the ships and cargo.

“While en route, both ships reported seeing explosions close by and the US Navy accompaniment also intercepted multiple projectiles,” the spokesperson said.

“The US Navy has turned both ships around and is escorting them back to the Gulf of Aden.”

US Central Command tweeted that the Houthis fired three missiles at Maersk Detroit at about 1400 hrs Sana’a time. The USS Gravely shot down two and one landed in the sea.

Both ships are enrolled with the US Maritime Administration’s Maritime Security Program and the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement

Maersk said: “The cargo carried on these vessels includes cargo belonging to the US Department of Defence, US Department of State, USAID, and other US government agencies and is therefore afforded the protection of the US Navy for passage through the strait.”

Maersk suspended its box operations in the Red Sea on January 2 following the Maersk Hangzhou (IMO: 9784300) attacks that saw the ship’s onboard security exchange fire with four Houthi small craft, three of which were eventually shot and drowned by US forces.

However, until today’s incident, US-flagged ships operated by MLL were still sailing through the Red Sea.

“The safety of our crews is of utmost importance. Following the escalation of risk, MLL is suspending transits in the region until further notice” the spokesperson said.

The incident was first reported by UKMTO. Centcom earlier said it destroyed two anti-ship missiles it said the Houthis were preparing to launch toward the Red Sea.

Earlier this week, the Houthis claimed to hit another US-flagged vessel, Ocean Jazz (IMO: 9509970). The US Fifth Fleet deemed claims of a successful attack “patently false”, but did not deny or confirm whether an attack took place.

Today’s incident was the first reported attack by UKMTO since January 18, excluding reports of drone sighting on January 23, and the Houthi’s claimed attack on Ocean Jazz.

EOS Risk Group head of advisory Martin Kelly said that while it appears the pace of Houthi attacks have slowed, this is likely due to the militants regrouping rather than a sign their capabilities have been substantially degraded or that they are deterred.

“We must remember, the Houthis sustained intense, often daily, air strikes by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, much more intense than we’re currently observing,” he said.

“Houthi cruise missiles and drones are very mobile — they can literally be stuck on the back of a truck and launched from anywhere. Anti-ship ballistic missiles require a little more in terms of launch site, but not a great deal.”


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