Shipping Giant Halts Commerce In Red Sea Despite US Navy Defending Against Houthi Attacks

(Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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Shipping giant Maersk once again halted shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden after one of its box ships came under attack twice in 24 hours over the weekend, the company announced Tuesday.

U.S. Navy vessels responded to the Maersk Hangzhou’s distress calls on Saturday and Sunday as the Houthis attacked twice, striking the ship with a missile in the first incident and later bearing down with boats and small arms fire. Maersk provisionally paused transits after the first incident, and later confirmed it will continue to rout vessels around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa to avoid further attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi militants, despite the U.S. military’s efforts to helm an international task force aimed at protecting commercial shipping, according to statements.

“Following the 30 December incident involving our vessel, Maersk Hangzhou, we have decided to pause all transits through the Red Sea / Gulf of Aden until further notice,” the company said. “An investigation into the incident is ongoing and we will continue to pause all cargo movement through the area while we further assess the constantly evolving situation.” (RELATED: US Consumers Face Higher Prices For Goods As Houthis Continue Attacks Against Commercial Vessels)

U.S. Navy helicopters and a contracted security team on the Maersk Hangzhou engaged in a firefight with Iran-backed Houthi rebels attacking the ship in four small boats and attempting to board the ship early Sunday, according to U.S. Central Command. The U.S. military personnel killed several of the Houthis in self defense, after the rebel lobbed shells at the helicopters, and sunk three of the boats, allowing the Hangzhou to sail on without any damage reported.

The evening prior, a missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen struck the Hangzhou while it was transiting the Southern Red Sea, according to CENTCOM. The Hangzhou issued a distress call and the destroyers USS Gravely and USS Laboon responded, but there were no reported injuries.

Maersk on Dec. 29 said the company was actively preparing to resume transit through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, a critical waterway that leads to the Suez Canal, after the Pentagon announced Operation Prosperity Guardian. The multinational task force is aimed at undercutting attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea as the Houthi rebels put a vice on shipping, according to the Pentagon.

“This is most welcome news for the entire industry and the functionality of global trade,” Maersk said, calling the announcement a “reassurance.”

The Houthis have threatened to attack all ships heading toward Israel regardless of their ownership. However, companies operating tankers and cargo vessels have denied their ships were heading to Israel.

“While we won’t comment on the decisions of individual companies, we recognize the financial and security impacts Houthi attacks are having on commercial shipping which is exactly why the international community is working together to ensure freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce throughout the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” a U.S. defense spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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