Threat to trade has grown in the region as container ships and oil tankers have been attacked or drawn missile fire.
The United States and United Kingdom authorities say their warships have shot down 15 attack drones over the Red Sea as Israel’s war on Gaza threatens to spread in the region.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) on Saturday said its guided-missile destroyer responded to a wave of drones from “Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen” over the Red Sea, downing 14 suspected attack drones.
It described the launches as “one-way attack drones”, saying they were “shot down with no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries”.
UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps also said the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Diamond fired a Sea Viper missile and destroyed a drone that was “targeting merchant shipping”.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said the group attacked the Israeli city of Eilat on Saturday with a swarm of drones, according to spokesman Yahya Sarea who referred to the Red Sea resort city as being in “southern occupied Palestine”.
The Houthis have promised to continue their attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, to pressure Israel to stop its attacks on Gaza.
‘Global trade problem’
Upping a previous pledge to attack any Israeli-linked ships, the Houthis have said that any ship heading to and from Israel in the waters off Yemen would be targeted.
CENTCOM reported three commercial ships came under fire in the Red Sea on Friday.
Shapps said attacks on commercial ships in the global trade artery by Yemen’s Houthi rebels “represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security”.
“The UK remains committed to repelling these attacks to protect the free flow of global trade,” he said in a statement.
Threat to trade has grown in the region as container ships and oil tankers flagged to countries such as Norway and Liberia have been attacked or drawn missile fire while traversing the waterway between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
French container shipping line CMA CGM Group on Saturday said it had ordered all its vessels scheduled to pass through the Red Sea to “pause their journey in safe waters with immediate effect until further notice”.
On Friday, Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, also told all its vessels planning to pass through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea to stop their journeys after a missile attack on a Liberian-flagged cargo ship.
Germany-based shipper Hapag-Lloyd said it was pausing all its container ship traffic through the Red Sea until Monday.
John Stawpert of the International Chamber of Shipping told Al Jazeera that the Houthi attacks on the Red Sea have had have a significant impact on global trade.
“We have seen two major carriers rerouting around the Cape of Good Hope [off South Africa] that will add six to 14 days to their voyage. It will delay the arrival of goods in the markets to which they’re being delivered,” he said. “This is not an Israeli trade problem. This is a global trade problem.”
Stawpert said the economic impact was not immediately clear but “if we look at the Suez Canal, we are talking about $3bn to $9bn of trade going through that every day – so it will be significant”.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels – who control much of Yemen but are not recognised internationally – have engaged in Oman-mediated talks with “international parties” about their operations in the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, a Houthi spokesman said on Saturday.
The statement did not identify the international parties involved in the talks and did not say where they took place or when, but may indicate the Houthis could be willing to deescalate.
The Houthis stressed in the Oman-mediated talks that their position was not subject to negotiation until Israel stopped its “aggression” against Gaza and allowed humanitarian aid to enter, said Houthi spokesman Mohamed Abdel-Salam.
However, Abdel-Salam also said “any real steps” addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza by bringing in food and medicine “would contribute to reducing the escalation”.
“We have emphasised to everyone that [the Houthi] operations are to support the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and that we cannot stand idly by in the face of the aggression and siege,” he said.
The US-based Semafor website reported on Saturday that Washington was deliberating on directly attacking the Houthis in response to increased raids on the commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
Officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden told the news site they were weighing the strategic value of targeting the group against potentially heightening a wider Middle East conflict.
The US has regularly conducted attacks on what it described as Iran-aligned groups in Iraq and Syria in response to attacks on bases housing US personnel.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told journalists in Tel Aviv on Friday that “while the Houthis are pulling the trigger, so to speak, they’re being handed the gun by Iran”.
Emily Foster is a globe-trotting journalist based in the UK. Her articles offer readers a global perspective on international events, exploring complex geopolitical issues and providing a nuanced view of the world’s most pressing challenges.