In a world increasingly interconnected through global trade and commerce, the stability and security of maritime commercial connectivity infrastructure stand as pillars of the global economy. Shipping lanes and coastal facilities, essential lifelines for international trade, have recently faced a multitude of unprecedented challenges. From pandemic-induced disruptions to geopolitical conflicts and economic upheavals, the maritime industry navigates through turbulent waters. The recent escalation of hostilities in key maritime regions, particularly the impact of the Houthis’ attacks, has brought to the forefront the fragility and importance of these crucial sea routes. This report delves into the myriad challenges and responses that shape the current landscape of global maritime trade.
With Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who command an arsenal of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, anti-ship mines, and drones,  continuing to escalate their maritime attacks and blocking the commercial transit through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait linking it to the Israel-Hamas war, multiple commercial vessels found themselves in the crosshairs for the first time in the conflict. Several logistics companies, such as AP Moller-Maersk, which accounts for 15 percent of global container freight, [1] and Hapag-Lloyd [2], announced they will not cross the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden, to transport goods. This route allowed ships access through the Suez Canal towards Egypt and further north. Approximately 10 to 12% of all maritime traffic is transported through the Red Sea.
Two other major container carriers – Switzerland’s Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) [3] and France’s CMA CGM [4]- also announced the suspension of ship traffic through the Suez Canal due to attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militants.
On Monday, December 19, US Secretary of Defense, General Lloyd Austin, announced a 10-nation coalition in response to Houthi missile and drone attacks on ships transiting the Red Sea. “Operation Prosperity Guardian” is in cooperation with UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain as a “multinational security initiative” [5].  
In April 2022, the Combined Task Force 153, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, was established to improve maritime security in the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb, and Gulf of Aden.[6] Until now, 39 nations have been members of CTF 153, but officials were determining which of them would participate in this latest effort. The United States Navy also requested that Australia join an international coalition at the operational level through the Combined Maritime Forces headquartered in Bahrain, of which Australia has been part. Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed the government would consider the request “in due course” but noted Australia’s naval efforts are “in our immediate region” and promoting freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific region.[7]
Australia was not included in Austin’s coalition list.[8] The Houthis pledged to continue military operations despite the announcement of a new maritime protection force. “Even if America succeeds in mobilising the entire world, our military operations will not stop… no matter the sacrifices it costs us,” senior Houthi official Mohammed al-Bukhaiti said on X, formerly Twitter.
Russia’s Perspective on Middle East Interventions: Lavrov’s Subtle Critique of US and European Involvement
In an interview with Channel One’s “Big Game” program on Monday, December 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not explicitly refer to the US’s new Middle East intervention plan. Lavrove highlighted that “Europe and the United States are now rushing in the Middle East, calling on the Lebanese, Iranians, Iraqis, and Syrians to do everything so that the war in Gaza does not spread to the surrounding territories. Perhaps they need to apply the same fervour to ensure that this does not happen in Ukraine.” [9]
Worth highlighting, in November 2019, Moscow appeared to be saying the only international Red Sea operation it would countenance for Yemen should be led by the United Nations (UN) that will not only benefit Yemen but also enhance the security of neighboring countries.
China’s Maritime Strategy: Navigating the Challenges in the Red Sea amid Global Tensions
The largest Chinese state-owned fleet company, Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), earlier this week announced that it is halting all shipments to and from Israeli seaports. According to The Maritime Executive, unlike its Western peers, OOCL did not say it would stop sailing through the Red Sea though.[10] Whether the Chinese Navy will send escorts for Chinese-flagged cargo vessels remains to be seen.
The official announcement from the Orient Overseas Container Line stopping cargo from/to Israel was removed from its website. However, it can be still traced using Google search engine.
For China, the Red Sea, which connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, holds significant geostrategic and geoeconomic significance. This maritime channel is crucial for maintaining the uninterrupted movement of China’s maritime commerce to markets across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
In summary, the current global landscape reveals the critical importance of maritime security in sustaining the flow of international trade. The confluence of challenges, including pandemic-related disruptions, geopolitical tensions, economic volatility, and regional conflicts, particularly the impact of the Houthis’ attacks, has brought into sharp focus the vulnerability of key maritime routes and infrastructure. The response to these challenges, involving various international collaborations and security initiatives, underscores the collective need to protect these vital trade arteries. This situation highlights the strategic significance of regions like the Red Sea, crucial for global economic players like China. As the maritime sector navigates these complex issues, its ability to maintain secure and efficient trade routes will be essential for the ongoing stability and prosperity of the global economy.

1- Maersk Operations through Red Sea / Gulf of Aden}
2 : Here’s an update on the Red Sea and Suez Canal situation
3: Shipping firms to avoid Suez Canal as Red Sea attacks increase
4- Global shipping firms to avoid Suez Canal as attacks from Yemen’s Huthi rebels increase
5- Statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on Ensuring Freedom of Navigation in the Red Sea, Dec. 18, 2023
6- CTF 153: Red Sea Maritime Security
7- Television interview, ABC News Breakfast
8- Navy declares it’s ready for any Middle East deployment following United States request
9- Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation S.V. Lavrov to the “Big Game” program on Channel One, Moscow, December 18, 2023
10- OOCL Stops Serving Israel Because of “Operational Issues”
By Razan Nweiran
Policy Researcher and Strategist | Media Analyst