Houthi attacks take steady toll on international shipping

Washington — Unrelenting attacks on international shipping by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen are taking a toll on commerce and aid efforts despite attempts by the United States and its partner to dampen the effects.

A just-released report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) finds Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden have affected at least 29 companies across more than 65 countries, driving up costs in multiple ways. 

“As of mid-February, insurance premiums for Red Sea transits have risen to 0.7-1.0% of a ship’s total value, compared to less than 0.1% prior to December 2023,” according to the DIA report.

The report also noted companies that continue to transit the region face increased costs for additional “war risk” insurance and bonuses for crew members.

As a result, the DIA assessment found container shipping through the Red Sea, which normally accounts for up to 15% of international maritime trade, fell by 90% from December 2023 through mid-February of 2024.

Shipping companies seeking to avoid the Red Sea are also seeing increased costs, with trips around Africa adding about $1 million to the price of the journey.

There is also a cost to aid efforts.

“As of February, humanitarian relief for Sudan and Yemen is being delayed by weeks and costing aid organizations more because of longer routes around Africa,” the report said.

In all, the DIA counted at least 43 Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden between November 19 [2023] and March 23.

The Houthis have said their campaign in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden is in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza amid the war between Israel and Hamas.

And the attacks show little sign of slowing down.

According to U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations across the Middle East, Houthis militants in Yemen have launched at least 10 missiles, two aerial drones and one surface drone against targets in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since Sunday [June 9].

On Wednesday, a Houthi-launched naval drone hit the M/V Tutor, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned ship that had recently been docked in Russia, CENTCOM said. The attack caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room.

This past December, the U.S. and eight other countries launched Operation Prosperity Guardian to help protect ships in the region from Houthi attacks.

In February, the European Union launched its own mission, ASPIDES, to help further protect maritime traffic. 

The U.S. and its allies have also conducted a series of strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen to deter further attacks on shipping, most recently late last month.


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