The global shipping carriers responsible for a whopping 40% of global trade have announced they will pause transit through the Suez Canal and divert their vessels away from the Red Sea following repeated Houthi rebel attacks.
Let’s quickly recap recent developments, look at the huge potential impact, and then analyze unique insights from Windward’s Maritime AI™ platform to see if a shift has started – including a behavior anomaly outside of Pakistan flagged by our Early Detection model.
Recent Red Sea Developments
“Following the near-miss incident involving Maersk Gibraltar yesterday (Thursday) and yet another attack on a container vessel today, we have instructed all Maersk vessels in the area bound to pass through the Bab al-Mandab Strait to pause their journey until further notice,” Maersk said in a statement on December 15.
Maersk’s vessel, Maersk Gibraltar, was targeted by a missile on Thursday, the 14th, while sailing from Salalah, Oman, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The crew was unharmed.
German transport company Hapag-Lloyd soon followed with a similar announcement and then two more major shipping firms, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and CMA CGM, said that they were suspending passage through a Red Sea strait vital for global trade, according to Barron’s.
MSC, the world’s largest shipping carrier, made its statement after its container ship, the MSC Palatium III, was attacked Friday. “Already now, some services will be rerouted to go via the Cape of Good Hope instead,” wrote MSC in a customer advisory.
Huge Potential Impact
The collective vessel market share of MSC, Hapag Lloyd, and Maersk is approximately 40% of global trade, according to CNBC. ZIM, an Israel-based ocean carrier, has re-routed vessels to avoid traversing the Arabian and Red Seas. Instead, vessels are sailing around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, which will likely add 10 to 14 days of travel time.
If a vessel departs from a port in Southeast Asia instead of proceeding to the Red Sea, for example, it will need to navigate an older route used before the Suez Canal’s construction. This entails circumnavigating the entire African continent to access the Mediterranean (see below).
Transit times from Asia to the Mediterranean were at a threshold last month, as explained in Windward’s November Port Insights, and are now expected to rise further.
Delays will obviously have a negative impact on the global supply chain. Sue Terpilowski from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, which represents companies concerned with supply chains, told the BBC about the likely spike in costs after four of the top five companies in the world suspended operations in the area:
“It’s security to the crew, to the ship itself and also insurance policies. Premiums are now going sky high if they can get insurance at all, so it’s going to have serious implications on stock levels, on costs and the whole dynamics of supply chains.”
Unique AI Insights
Windward’s platform analyzed unique area visits to the relevant straits (weekly average) and found:
- A two-year low this week of area visits in Bab-el-Mandeb for container vessels, which marks a decrease of 27% compared to the weekly average in 2023
- Unsurprisingly, there is a two-year high this week of average weekly area visits to the Cape of Good Hope, showing an increase of 36% compared to the weekly average of 2023
Using our soon-to-be-released Sequence of Activities capability, we also focused on the number of unique container vessel voyages (completed journeys through the Red Sea) from Bab-el-Mandeb to the Suez Canal.
- The weekly average of unique completed voyages in Q3 was 184
- There was an 18% decrease in Q4
- When looking at the Q4 average of 150 unique completed voyages, we see a decrease of 33% this past week, compared to the rest of the quarter
A previous Windward blog post, published on December 7, noted that changes were already being observed in the area before the start of December.
The number of course deviations in the area connecting the Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea has dramatically increased, according to Windward’s AI-powered platform, from an average of 41 between December 2022-September 2023, to 143 in October and 164 in November.
Segmentation by classes reveals that the most significant change occurred among cargo and service vessels, with a 336% and 550% increase in the average number of course deviations in October-November 2023 compared to previous months, respectively.
There was also a marked escalation in dark activities by cargo vessels within Saudi Arabia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Red Sea. Typically averaging 42 such incidents from October 2022 through September 2023, the count surged to 74 in October and went even higher in November to 81, representing an increase of nearly 200%.
So far (up until the publication of this blog post on December 18, 2023), we are still seeing a regular amount of transmissions from container ships in the Red Sea, with more than 160 unique vessels transmitting on December 17.
What Should You Be Looking At?
As noted above, alternative routes to the Indian Ocean could add 10-14 days of travel time to a vessel’s journey. Having the latest picture of port congestion and average transit times may be the difference between being closer to the 10 than the 14, as global routes continue to shift and evolve.
The Cape of Good Hope is a known smuggling route for Russian oil. Unlike the Suez Canal, the Cape does not have check points. Diverting a large number of ships there, rather than the regulated Red Sea, may make smuggling in the Cape even easier and cause an increase in illegal commodity trades.
Your customers are going to be on edge as this saga continues. Without the most accurate ETAs for ocean freight, they will not be able to know when containers will arrive at the port of destination (POD), and may incur detention and demurrage charges as a result.
Early detection is also going to be critical during such a fluid, fast-moving geopolitical quagmire. Without sufficient lead time, you may know what is happening, but you are not agile or flexible enough to react in time or strategically (as discussed in our recent eBook about going beyond maritime domain awareness).
Windward’s platform flagged an increase in first-time visits by a small number of cargo vessels to Pakistan’s territorial waters – this area is right outside the Bab-el Mandeb strait. This is an initial behavioral anomaly that may be related to the situation in the Red Sea. We’ll keep monitoring the situation and keep you updated…