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A truck transports Houthi supporters near Sanaa, Yemen, January 14 2024. Picture: KHALED ABDULLAH/REUTERS
A truck transports Houthi supporters near Sanaa, Yemen, January 14 2024. Picture: KHALED ABDULLAH/REUTERS

Washington/Davos — The US military carried out new strikes in Yemen against Houthi targets on Tuesday as a missile struck a Greek-owned vessel in the Red Sea.

Disruptions to Red Sea shipping caused by Houthi attacks will push up prices of consumer goods in Europe in particular, an executive from port and freight operator DP World said as the impact on commerce increased.

The Iran-aligned Houthi militia has threatened to expand its attacks to include US ships in response to American and British strikes on its sites in Yemen.

Attacks by the Houthis on ships in the region since November have affected companies and alarmed major powers — an escalation of Israel’s more than three-month-old war with Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza. The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians.

The White House said additional US strikes on Tuesday took out ballistic missiles Houthis were ready to launch.

“We’re not looking to expand this. The Houthis have a choice to make and they still have time to make the right choice, which is to stop these reckless attacks,” White House spokesperson John Kirby said.

Two heads of international banking groups attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos said privately that they were worried the crisis might cause inflationary pressures which could ultimately delay or reverse interest rate cuts and jeopardise hopes for a US economic soft landing.

DP World CFO Yuvraj Narayan said he expected disruptions to hit European imports.

“The cost of goods into Europe from Asia will be significantly higher,” Narayan said at the annual WEF meeting in Davos, the Swiss ski resort.

“European consumers will feel the pain... It will hit developed economies more than it will hit developing economies,” the Dubai-based logistics company’s finance chief added.

War risk insurance premiums for shipments through the Red Sea are rising, insurance sources said on Tuesday.

In Spain, four factories owned by French tyre maker Michelin are planning to halt output again this weekend, a further sign of the impact of delays in the delivery of raw materials.

Ship hit

A Malta-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier was struck by a missile while northbound in the Red Sea 76 nautical miles northwest of the Yemeni port of Saleef, a security firm and two Greek shipping ministry sources said.

Yemen's Houthis carried out the attack on the ship, the Zografia, using naval missiles, resulting in a “direct hit”, the group's military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said.

The Zografia was sailing from Vietnam to Israel with 24 crew on board and was empty of cargo when attacked, one of the Greek sources said. “There were no injuries, only material damage,” the source added. It was still sailing but would probably reroute for safety checks.

Underlining concerns, Japanese shipping operator Nippon Yusen, also known as NYK Line, instructed its vessels navigating near the Red Sea to wait in safe waters and is considering route changes, a company spokesperson said.

Shipping giant Maersk, however, sent two container ships through the Red Sea carrying goods for the US military and government.

Container vessels have been pausing or diverting from the Red Sea that leads to the Suez Canal, the fastest freight route from Asia to Europe. Many ships have been forced to circumnavigate SA’s Cape of Good Hope instead.

About 12% of world shipping traffic accesses the Suez Canal via the Red Sea.

British oil major Shell has suspended all shipments through the Red Sea indefinitely after the US and UK strikes triggered fears of further escalation, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. Shell declined to comment.

Russian tanker group Sovcomflot is also considering alternative routes in case the crisis escalates, TASS news agency reported. Sovcomflot did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Carmakers Tesla and Geely-owned Volvo Car have suspended some production in Europe due to a shortage of components.

US retailer Target said on Tuesday it was experiencing some disruptions of shipments due to the crisis in the Red Sea. 

European diplomats said member states of the EU had given initial backing to creation of a naval mission by February 19 at the latest to help protect ships.

The existing US-led coalition meant to safeguard commercial traffic in the Red Sea is weak because regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have not taken part, Yemen's vice-president said on Tuesday.

“This Bab al-Mandab corridor is of interest to the whole world and to the region, so regional intervention is key,” Aidarous al-Zubaidi said in an interview, referring to the narrow strait at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

Zubaidi’s separatist Southern Transitional Council is part of an alliance that opposes the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres spoke with Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, on Monday, Guterres’ spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

“Regarding the situation in the Red Sea, the secretary-general reiterated his call to all the parties to avoid any further escalation,” Dujarric said.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister underlined the link between Houthi attacks on commercial ships to the war in Gaza. Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said the kingdom's priority is finding a path to de-escalation through a ceasefire in Gaza.


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