Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, will resume operations in the Red Sea despite Houthi threats, the Danish company announced on Sunday.
“As of Sunday 24 December 2023, we have received confirmation that the previously announced multi-national security initiative Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) has now been set up and deployed to allow maritime commerce to pass through the Red Sea / Gulf of Aden and once again return to using the Suez Canal as a gateway between Asia and Europe. This is most welcome news for the entire industry and indeed the functionality of global trade,” the company said in a statement.
“With the OPG initiative in operation, we are preparing to allow for vessels to resume transit through the Red Sea both eastbound and westbound. We are currently working on plans for the first vessels to make the transit and for this to happen as soon as operationally possible,” the statement added.
Operation Prosperity Guardian is a U.S.-led multinational coalition of naval forces protecting shipping in the Red Sea.
From bases along the Yemeni coast, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have attacked ships in the Red Sea as they traverse the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a narrow maritime chokepoint between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. The majority of the world’s oil passes through the strait from the Indian Ocean towards the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea.
On Friday, the White House accused Iran of helping to plan Houthi attacks against cargo vessels during the Israel-Hamas war.
“We know that Iran was deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea. This is consistent with Iran’s long-term materiel support and encouragement of the Houthis’ destabilizing actions in the region,” White House national security spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported overnight Friday that the USS Laboon had intercepted four drones from Houthi-controlled Yemen territory heading towards the American destroyer deployed in the Red Sea.
CENTOM also said that two merchant ships were targeted with attack drones on Friday. A Norwegian-registered chemical and oil tanker reported a near miss of a Houthi drone and a Gabon-owned, Indian-flagged crude oil tanker reported a hit from a Houthi drone with no injuries.
The USS Laboon responded to the distress call from the ships, which the U.S. military said were the 14th and 15th attacks on commercial shipping by Houthi terrorists since Oct. 17.
Additionally, CENTCOM said that “two Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles were fired into international shipping lanes in the Southern Red Sea from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. No ships reported being impacted by the ballistic missiles.”
The USS Laboon is patrolling the Red Sea as part of the multinational mission.
Earlier this month, the Houthis vowed to target every Israel-bound ship in the Red Sea, regardless of its ownership. They have attacked or harassed a number of ships, and hijacked the Galaxy Leader in November. The cargo ship and its crew of 25 are being held hostage in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.