Houthi Attacks Rattle Bab El Mandeb Strait: Global Trade Faces Disruption


The Strait of Bab El Mandeb, a nerve center for international maritime trade linking the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and separating Yemen from Djibouti, is now under threat, particularly from Houthi attacks. This crucial corridor is where almost 40% of maritime trade passes through to access the European market via the Suez Canal. For instance, in 2018, nearly 6.5 million barrels of oil from the Gulf passed through here.

This region of the world therefore constitutes a crucial strategic position and is of major importance for the global economy, particularly for the proper functioning of the supply chain, as evidenced by the strong presence of Emirati, French, American, Japanese, and Chinese. China, for example, built a base in Djibouti to accommodate 10,000 soldiers in 2017, so as not to disrupt its exports.

However, in recent days, the strait, only 18km wide, has come under regular attack from the Yemeni coast. Indeed, the Houthi insurgents, a movement made up mainly of Shiite Muslims supported by Iran, have declared “their intention to continue attacks against ships owned or operated by Israeli companies, as well as those in transit to Israel, for the duration of the conflict in Gaza”. Nevertheless, many European container ships have been the target of numerous Houthi attacks without being affiliated with Israel.

A change in the maritime route?

As a result of these attacks, shipowners Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd are stopping their vessels from crossing the Bab El Mandeb Strait. Passing through the Cape of Good Hope is a possibility with serious consequences for maritime trade. As it would for instance, lengthen the Singapore-Rotterdam route by almost 40% compared with the Suez Canal. Therefore, reduced navigation through this strategic passage could disrupt the timely and efficient movement of essential commodities, leading to increased shipping costs, longer delivery times, and potential shortages of goods. The ripple effects would extend to various industries, impacting global trade and economic stability as businesses contend with supply chain disruptions and heightened geopolitical concerns in the affected region.


Given this situation, British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps declared: “The recent wave of illegal attacks represents a direct threat to international trade and maritime security”.

What’s next?


Although the United States is making sure that a maritime task force is available to minimize the Houthi attacks, it remains slowed down by Saudi Arabia, a major player in the region, which does not wish to aggravate the situation with Iran, particularly concerning negotiations on a possible truce in the civil war in Yemen. Only one Arab country is part of the task force, Bahrain.

However, a de-escalation of events in the strait is not out of the question, as rebel spokesman Mohamed Abdel-Salam has assured us that “any concrete measure” concerning aid for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza “would contribute to reducing the escalation”.



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