Global Trade Disrupted as Over 100 Container Ships Rerouted Due to Houthi Attacks
The world’s trade routes are facing significant disruption as more than 100 container ships are being rerouted away from the Suez Canal, a critical passageway connecting Asia to Europe. The reason behind this diversion lies in the escalating attacks by Houthi rebels on vessels along the western coast of Yemen. The impact of these attacks is not only affecting shipping companies but also causing a ripple effect on global oil prices and supply chains.
Kuehne and Nagel, a major shipping company, reported that 103 ships have already changed course, and more are expected to follow suit, circumventing the Suez Canal by taking the longer route around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. This detour, which adds approximately 6,000 nautical miles to the journey, could extend delivery times by three to four weeks, significantly disrupting the logistics and timelines of global trade.
The Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, claim responsibility for these attacks, citing retaliation for Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. In response to the escalating situation, the United States announced plans to lead a naval coalition to protect shipping in the Suez Canal, highlighting the strategic importance of this waterway.
The Suez Canal, traversed by about 19,000 ships annually, plays a pivotal role in facilitating the movement of goods, especially fossil fuels, between Asia and Europe. The ships that have diverted so far had the capacity to carry 1.3 million 20ft (6-meter) containers. Even oil and gas tankers have rerouted, with major companies like BP publicly acknowledging the shift, while others, like Shell, remain silent on the matter.
This disruption has not only logistical but also economic implications. The extended travel time is expected to absorb 20% of the global fleet capacity, leading to potential delays in the availability of shipping resources. Additionally, returning empty equipment to Asia is likely to pose challenges, further impacting the overall reliability of supply chains.
Michael Aldwell, board member for sea logistics at Kuehne and Nagel, warned of potential delays and challenges, stating, “Moreover, delays in returning empty equipment to Asia are likely to pose challenges, further impacting the overall reliability of supply chains.”
The consequences of this disruption are already visible in the energy market, with higher oil prices being one of the immediate outcomes. The price of Brent crude oil futures, the global benchmark, rose by 1.2% to above $80, a significant increase from the previous week’s value below $74. Further price hikes could eventually translate into higher consumer energy tariffs, contributing to inflationary pressures.
The global business community is closely monitoring the situation, with major carmakers and companies assessing the potential impact on their supply chains. Fortunately, the timing of this disruption, coinciding with many factories’ temporary closure for Christmas, has provided some leeway for companies to manage the situation.
While the current disruption is not expected to affect the retail industry this Christmas due to pre-built stocks, an extended disturbance to normal shipping patterns could lead to shortages of products for consumers or parts for manufacturers. Despite this, few companies have reported significant effects thus far.
The situation underscores the vulnerability of global supply chains, prompting some manufacturers to reconsider their supply chain strategies. Moving away from the “just-in-time” model, which relies on timely deliveries, some companies are adopting a more resilient “just-in-case” approach, involving increased emergency stockpiles of parts.
In conclusion, the rerouting of container ships away from the Suez Canal due to Houthi attacks is causing widespread disruptions in global trade, impacting shipping, oil prices, and supply chains. The full extent of the consequences is yet to unfold, but the incident highlights the intricate interdependence of the global economy and the need for robust contingency plans in the face of unforeseen geopolitical events.