Maersk CEO Says Military Operations Can’t Guarantee Safety of Ships in Red Sea

February 8, 2024 8:11 PM
Maersk Container Ship

The military operations in the Red Sea cannot guarantee the safety of commercial shipping in the region, the chief executive officer of a major shipping company said on Thursday.

During a 2023 third-quarter earnings call, Maersk CEO Vincent Clerc mentioned the lack of guaranteed safety in the Red Sea, which has come under several attacks by the Yemen-based Houthis in a Thursday interview on Bloomberg T.V.

Clerc said disruptions in the Red Sea have affected about a third of the company’s container volume, which was less than the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve not seen the level of threat peak, to the contrary,” Clerc said. “The amount or the range of weapons that are being used for these attacks is expanding and there is no clear line of sight to when and how the international community will be able to mobilize itself and guarantee safe passage for us.”

As of Feb. 8, at least three Maersk ships have been targeted by Houthi missiles and drones, according to USNI News’ timeline of activity in the Red Sea since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel and the subsequent Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

The Houtis threatened the crew of MV Maersk Gibraltar, which sailed under a Hong Kong flag, with missiles if it did not stop sailing in the Red Sea on Dec. 14, 2023. This prompted Maersk to pause shipping, USNI News reported.

On Dec. 30, Houthis struck the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou with an anti-ship ballistic missile. U.S. destroyers USS Gravely (DDG-107) and USS Laboon (DDG-58) responded to the ship’s distress call, with Gravely shooting down two additional anti-ship ballistic missiles.

On Dec. 31, Maersk Hangzhou was harassed by Houthi small boats. The Navy sent helicopters from aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and destroyer Gravely to assist the ship after it put out a distress call. The Houthis fired at the Navy helicopters, prompting the helo crews to return fire and ultimately killing 10 Houthis.

The Houthis also fired three anti-ship ballistic missiles at MV Maersk Detroit on Jan. 24. Gravely intercepted two of the missiles, while the third landed in the water.

On Jan. 30, Maersk suspended all bookings to Djibouti as a result of the tensions in the Middle East, in addition to its pause on Red Sea shipping. On Jan. 26, the company announced it would instead transit around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

When asked about Clerc’s statements, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters that it’s why there is a defensive coalition in the Red Sea, referring to Operation Prosperity Guardian.

“It’s a defensive coalition that is conducting joint patrols and providing capability to help vessels that transit,” Ryder said during a Thursday press briefing. “At the end of the day, it’s up to commercial industry, whether they opt to go through that route. Obviously, I think it’s in international interest to ensure that it is safe and secure, and that’s why we’re working so hard toward that end.”

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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