In the face of escalating Houthi attacks on cargo vessels in the Red Sea, a novel defensive strategy has emerged among ship operators. Ships are strategically signaling their connection to China, a move designed to deter potential hijacking attempts by the Iran-backed rebel group.
As the Red Sea witnesses a surge in Houthi attacks and hijacking attempts, at least five ships have adopted the tactic of declaring an “all Chinese crew” status or a similar indication in their communication systems, typically reserved for stating their destination. Two of these vessels currently navigate the Red Sea, while two others have successfully traversed the risky waters, en route to Asia. A fifth ship appears to be heading towards the Gulf of Aden.
Amid these security concerns, exporters and cargo ship crews remain on high alert. Houthi militants, expressing solidarity with Hamas in the ongoing conflict with Gaza, claim to target only merchant ships with Israeli ties. However, several vessels with no apparent Israeli connection have fallen victim to attacks, resulting in a global decline in exports and a surge in oil prices in Western markets.
The impact of these attacks extends beyond the immediate danger zone. Suez Canal transits have plummeted to the lowest levels since the canal was blocked by a giant container ship in 2021. Many ships are opting to circumnavigate Africa, covering thousands of additional miles to avoid the Red Sea and ensure the safe delivery of their cargo.
In response to the escalating Houthi threat, the United States and United Kingdom have launched a joint military airstrike against Houthi rebel targets in Yemen. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed the Royal Air Force’s targeted strikes on Houthi military facilities, deeming it a “limited, necessary, and proportionate action in self-defense.”
Supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, the US and UK military forces coordinated strikes as retaliation against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Sunak highlighted that the Royal Navy continues to patrol the Red Sea actively to counteract Houthi aggression. The region remains a focal point for international efforts to safeguard maritime security and maintain crucial trade routes.