“Fueled by a just-in-time economy, maritime transport remains fragile”

2023-12-18 05:15:03

FShould he hoist the white flag to cross the Red Sea? Or, safer, avoid the perilous Bab Al-Mandab Strait, this 27 kilometer wide “gate of lamentations” which opens access to the southern entrance to the Suez Canal? It is not good to sail around here. After several days of hesitation, the major European container ship owners, the Italian-Swiss MSC, the Danish AP Moller-Maersk, the French CMA CGM and the German Hapag-Lloyd, decided, Friday 15 and Saturday 16 December, to suspend ” until further notice ” navigation in the area.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Maritime traffic in the Red Sea under pressure from Yemeni Houthis

Over the past month, several ships have been targeted by drones and missiles launched by Houthi forces. The Yemeni rebels, supported by Iran, want to impose a humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is waging a deadly war against Hamas terrorists. And too bad if most of the boats targeted have no link with the Jewish state. Prime targets, the container ships of the Israeli company Zim have been circumnavigating Africa for several days to reach the Mediterranean.

There is an uproar in the region, one of the most militarized in the world. The command center for American military operations in the Middle East is concerned about“a direct threat to international trade and maritime security”. Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, suggested Friday in Tel Aviv that the United States was considering with the countries concerned a task force responsible for strengthening the security of trade routes.

Strategic corridors

“Protecting our maritime traffic will become a more significant mission”, already predicted Admiral Pierre Vandier, then Chief of Staff of the Navy, shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, citing cargoes of liquefied natural gas (LNG). NATO recalls that one of its missions is to “secure maritime trade routes and [de] protect bottlenecks ». As for the private maritime security market, which already weighs 25 billion dollars (around 23 billion euros) per year, it is booming.

Fueled by a just-in-time economy, maritime transport remains fragile. Two strategic corridors are worrying industrialists and shipowners: in addition to the security threat on the Suez Canal, there is a historic drought in the Isthmus of Panama. Global warming and El Niño have dried up the two artificial lakes feeding the locks; the canal authority had to reduce from 40 to 32 per day (then to 18, from January 2024) the number of ships authorized in this corridor linking the Pacific to the Atlantic, and Chinese factories to American stores.

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