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A number of major global shipping companies have announced they are suspending journeys through the Red Sea following a spate of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi movement, an Iran-aligned group.

AP Møller-Mærsk, or Maersk, which operates the world’s second-largest container shipping fleet, said on Friday that it had instructed all vessels due to pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to “pause their journey until further notice.” 

The Bab al-Mandab strait is a strategically important sea lane that runs past Yemen and through which much of the world’s oil is shipped. The strait is a key conduit to the Suez Canal.

Copenhagen-based Maersk said that recent attacks on commercial vessels in the southern Red Sea “are alarming and pose a significant threat to the safety and security of seafarers.”

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Maersk was joined on Saturday by the Swiss-based MSC and the French shipping group CMA CGM, who also halted their operations.

“The situation is further deteriorating and concern for safety is increasing,” CMA CGM said in a statement.

The German container line Hapag Lloyd had said that it might do the same.

Meanwhile, Trafigura, one of the world’s largest commodities traders, said it was “taking additional precautions” for its owned and chartered vessels, according to the Financial Times. 

The Liberian-flagged MSC Palatium III was attacked on Friday with a drone in the Bab al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea. No injuries were reported, but the vessel suffered some fire damage and was taken out of service, MSC said in a statement. 

A Google Maps image showing the Red Sea in the Middle East

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Another Liberian-flagged vessel, Hapag Lloyd’s Al Jasrah, was hit by a missile, the U.S. military said.

Yemen’s Houthi movement has launched more than 10 attacks on ships in the area since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war and has said that it would target all ships heading to Israel, regardless of their nationality, as part of its support for Hamas. They have warned international shipping companies against dealing with Israeli ports.

“The Yemeni armed forces confirm they will continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports from navigating in the (Red Sea) until they bring in the food and medicine that our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip need,” a Houthi military spokesperson said in a statement claiming responsibility for Friday’s attacks.

A light blue colored Maersk container ship heading towards the Red Sea after passing through the Suez Canal in Suez, Egypt.

The group has attacked and seized several Israeli-linked ships in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab strait and has also fired ballistic missiles and armed drones at Israel.

Three commercial vessels were attacked in the Red Sea on December 3, prompting the U.S. warship USS Carney to shoot down multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) headed toward them.

The news of the shipping companies suspending journeys comes about a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allegedly told President Biden that his country would act militarily against Yemen’s Houthi movement if the United States fails to do so, according to a report by Israeli publication N12News.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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