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What’s happening in the Red Sea?

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Houthi rebels have been attacking ships passing through the Red Sea, threatening global trade and further regional instability.
Red Sea

A group from Yemen called ‘Houthis’ are attacking ships in the Red Sea that they say are connected to Israel.

This is part of the Houthis’ support for Hamas in the context of an ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

The Red Sea is one of the world’s busiest trading routes and the Houthi attacks on ships have led some companies to divert their ships, which could have major economic implications.

First, the Red Sea

The Red Sea connects Europe and Asia and is one of the world’s busiest trading routes.

Roughly 12% of global trade passes through the Suez Canal, a human-built passageway connecting Europe and the Red Sea.

When the canal was blocked for six days in 2021, the estimated cost was $US9.6 billion ($AU14b) of trade flow a day.

Houthi rebels

The Houthis are a Yemen-based group backed by Iran. They have been fighting in a civil war in Yemen since 2014. In that time, the UN estimates nearly a quarter of a million people have died due to conflict and famine.

Now, the Houthis have become involved in the Israel-Hamas war by declaring support for Hamas. Initially, the Houthis launched missile and drone attacks at Israel. More recently, they have shifted to attacking commercial shipping targets in the Red Sea. They claim the ships are linked to Israel, although the attackshave targeted commercial ships linked to other countries.

Houthi attacks

In November, Houthi fighters hijacked a cargo ship, Galaxy Leader, which they believed to be linked to Israel.

Since then, they have continued to fire missiles at other container ships in the Red Sea, totalling more than 100 attacks.

As a result, some of the world’s biggest shipping companies have announced they will pause shipping through the Sea due to fears of Houthi attacks.

BP – one of the world’s largest oil companies – also announced it was halting trade through the Red Sea because of the “deteriorating security situation for shipping”.

Economic impact

The main alternative route to the Red Sea is via South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, which adds roughly 10 days to an average shipping route between Europe and Asia.

The longer distance makes it more expensive to ship through this route.

U.S. response

The U.S. has condemned Houthi forces for threatening international security and disrupting global trade.

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a joint effort of 10 countries, including the UK, France, and Canada, to boost the protection of ships in the Red Sea.

Austin said the escalating Houthi attacks were “reckless, dangerous and they violate international law”.

Australia’s response

Australia joined the EU, NATO, the U.S and seven other countries in condemning the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, saying they have threatened the “movement of food, fuel, humanitarian assistance, and other essential commodities”.

“There is no justification for these attacks,” the statement said.

Australia did not join the American-led defence operation in the Red Sea.

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