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US and UK military offensive fails to contain Houthi attacks

US and UK military offensive fails to contain Houthi attacks

In the Red Sea, a series of US and UK airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen have failed to stem the tide of attacks against shipping in the region.

The number of attacks increased significantly – from six to nine in a three-week period. Since US operations began on January 11, sea traffic along the vital Red Sea trade route has dropped 29%.

The Houthis initially claimed they were attacking Israeli ships or that they were en route to or from Israel. However, since the airstrikes began in January, they have mainly targeted ships with ties to the UK or the US.

A significant change in tactics

Seven out of a total of 28 vessels targeted since the attacks began in November were associated with Israeli companies, people or targets. Of the nine ships hit since the airstrikes began, five had British or American links, and none had proven Israeli links.

Also, the tactics of the Houthis have changed. Earlier, attacks were concentrated at the southern end of the Red Sea, near the Bab al-Mandab strait, where ships are forced to sail closer to the Yemeni coast, which is controlled by the Houthis. Recently, they have chosen to strike further south, into the Gulf of Aden.

Global impact

The Red Sea is an important sea route and is the most efficient way to transport goods between Asia and Europe. The number of merchant ships using the route has dropped by 50% since the start of Houthi attacks, despite a US-led military coalition that includes British naval vessels protecting merchant ships in the area.

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Prices of all kinds of consumer goods, from fuel to food, will inevitably come under pressure when freight rates rise. Traveling from the Middle East around Africa to Europe instead of going through the Suez Canal can add three weeks to travel time and cost more than $2 million extra.

As fewer ships pass through the Suez Canal, the organization that manages the canal says its revenue in January fell 44% compared to the same month in 2023. This year's revenue is also forecast to drop 40% to $6 billion. The crisis in the region will continue.

Preventive measures

Some companies pay for armed security teams on their ships to prevent smuggling. Others have disabled their onboard AIS system, which allows them to track the reported position and route, making it difficult for Houthi forces to detect if an attack occurs. Some write “no ties to Israel” or “armed guards on board” or “Chinese crew” on their surveillance equipment, which ship owners hope will deter attackers.