Over 100 Ships Defy Warning, Navigate Red Sea Despite Escalating Tensions

Amid escalating tensions in the Middle East, more than 100 commercial vessels, including oil tankers, have transited the Red Sea/Suez Canal route despite warnings from the U.S. and UK navies to stay away. The call for caution came following strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, prompting industry giants to advise ship operators to avoid the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (Intertanko), representing nearly 70% of all international oil, chemical, and gas tankers, issued an advisory urging tankers to “stay well away” from the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and to pause north of Yemen when traveling south through the Suez Canal. While many heeded this advice, a significant number pressed on with their routes.

According to vessel-tracking data monitored by Bloomberg, 114 commercial vessels, including oil tankers, bulk carriers, and container ships, continued their journeys through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. This marks a decrease from the 131 ships recorded during the previous week and a significant drop from the 272 vessels using the route a month ago.

The tense situation further intensified when an anti-ship cruise missile was fired from Iranian-backed Houthi militant areas in Yemen towards the USS Laboon in the Southern Red Sea. Fortunately, the missile was intercepted by U.S. fighter aircraft near the coast of Hudaydah, and no injuries or damages were reported.

In a separate incident on Monday, the Houthis targeted a U.S.-owned merchant vessel, the Gibraltar Eagle, a Marshall Islands-flagged, U.S.-owned, and operated container ship. Despite the attack, the vessel reported no injuries or significant damage and is continuing its journey, according to the U.S. Central Command.

As tensions persist in the region, the maritime industry faces a challenging balancing act between heeding security warnings and maintaining essential trade routes. The decision of some vessels to defy advisories reflects the intricate dance between risk and necessity in the high-stakes world of maritime transportation.