Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

The Royal Navy’s HMS Diamond is to join the international task force protecting ships that travel through the Red Sea, after a spate of attacks by Houthi militia.

The UK said its move was in response to the deteriorating security situation in the region.

On Monday, Joe Biden’s defence secretary Lloyd Austin announced US ships will join with vessels from the UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Seychelles, and Spain as part of a new American-led multi-national naval force.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the Cabinet that “malign actors were seeking to exploit the situation in the Middle East for their own ends”.

He told ministers that Houthi attacks have “led to several companies suspending passage through the area”, and added that “the UK has always stepped up to protect free trade and HMS Diamond and HMS Lancaster were in the region to provide necessary deterrence”.

The prime minister’s official spokesman added: “These are Iran-backed rebels and we know that Iran is actively seeking to undermine stability in the region.

“We are clear eyed about that and that’s why we are acting alongside our allies to provide the necessary deterrence to protect commercial shipping.”

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps also said in a statement: “These illegal attacks are an unacceptable threat to the global economy, undermining regional security and are threatening to drive up fuel prices.

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‘It’s not safe to cross Red Sea’

“This is an international problem that requires an international solution. That is why HMS Diamond has joined Operation Prosperity Guardian.

“This new task force will protect shipping and vital trade routes in the Red Sea, where large amounts of goods and oil transit through to Europe and on to the UK.

“Our Royal Navy personnel are protecting British interests in an increasingly contested part of the world. Their valuable contribution to upholding peace and security should not be underestimated and we thank them for their service, especially during this festive period.”

HMS Diamond was already in the region, and on Saturday was reported to have shot down an attack drone suspected of targeting commercial ships in the first time the Royal Navy had downed an aerial target in anger since the 1991 Gulf War.

10-12% of all global trade goes through Strait

The Iran-backed Houthis, who have taken over swathes of territory in Yemen, are allies of Hamas and have vowed to target vessels they believe are heading to and from Israel.

They are understood to be targeting ships in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait between Yemen and Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.

The strait, – meaning “Gate of Tears” – is a significant shipping route between Asia and Europe and accounts for between 10% and 12% of global maritime trade.

It comes after United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) noted an attack on at least one British ship off the port of Mokha in Yemen on Monday.

And today, British maritime security firm Ambrey has said it received information of a potential boarding attempt off the coast of Yemen.

The task force currently includes three US destroyers and a French warship – which are also in the region.

Read more:
Who are the Houthis and what is happening in the Red Sea?

US confrontation with Houthis now a real possibility

Red Sea shipping firms still rerouting away

In response to the task force, major companies were positive but unsure if it is enough to bring shipping back through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

Maersk, the world’s second largest shipping company and the first to pause movement in the region, said news of the task force is “very positive” but are still cautious.

Chief infrastructure officer Rabab Raafat Boulos said: “With the line of impacted vessels building fast in the area, progressing with speed will be key for the coalition in order to minimise direct negative impact on global trade.”

Nils Haupt from Hapag-Lloyd, the world’s fifth largest shipping firm, also welcomed the operation but added: “As long as safety and security is not guaranteed we will for sure not pass the Red Sea.”

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