Amidst the escalating threat of Houthi attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea, an unconventional strategy is emerging among vessel operators. Ships are now strategically deploying signals indicating their association with China in an attempt to discourage hijacking attempts by the Iran-backed rebel group.
In response to the surge in Houthi attacks, at least five ships traversing the Red Sea have employed the tactic of prominently displaying messages such as “all Chinese crew” in fields that traditionally specify their destination.
This novel approach aims to create a perception of alignment with China and, by extension, enhance the ships’ safety during their passage through the risky Red Sea waters.
As two of these ships with the signaling strategy currently navigate the Red Sea, two others have successfully traversed the perilous waterway and are en route to Asia. A fifth vessel appears to be headed towards the Gulf of Aden.
The apprehensions of exporters and cargo ship crews have heightened as Houthi attacks and hijacking attempts witness a notable surge in the Red Sea.
The rebel group, expressing solidarity with Hamas in the ongoing conflict with Gaza, claims to target merchant vessels with links to Israel. However, several attacked vessels have no apparent Israeli connection, leading to a tangible impact on global exports and a spike in oil prices in the West.
The repercussions of these attacks are evident in the significant decline in Suez Canal transits, reaching the lowest level since the canal’s blockage by a container ship in 2021. Many ships are opting to circumvent the Red Sea, choosing instead to sail thousands of miles around Africa to ensure the safe delivery of their goods.
In response to the heightened threat posed by Houthi activities, the United States and United Kingdom recently conducted a joint airstrike against Houthi rebel targets in Yemen. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed this action, describing it as “limited, necessary, and proportionate action in self-defense.”
The Royal Air Force, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, targeted Houthi rebels in retaliation for their attacks on the Red Sea. Sunak further announced that the Royal Navy continues to patrol the Red Sea to counteract Houthi aggression.
As the maritime community navigates these challenges, signaling ties to China emerges as a unique and proactive measure to safeguard against Houthi threats in the Red Sea.