Maritime Attack Halts Maersk Shipping Routes in US Flagged Vessels

Security Concerns Rise as Industry Reevaluates Shipping Paths and Risk Mitigation Strategies

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On January 24, a confirmed attack targeted two Maersk vessels registered under the United States Flag Registry: the “Maersk Detroit” and the “Maersk Chesapeake.” The former was operating in the ‘MECL1’ service connecting the U.S. East Coast to the Middle East and India, while the latter was serving as a feeder vessel in the Middle East to Africa route.

According to the U.S. military, the attack involved three anti-ship ballistic missiles, with two successfully intercepted and the third impacting the sea. The vessels, initially en route to the Red Sea, were compelled to execute a U-turn towards the Gulf of Aden following the attack.

Significantly, both vessels were part of the U.S. Navy’s accompanying program for northbound Bab el-Mandeb Strait transits, carrying cargo for the Department of Defense, the Department of State, USAID, and other U.S. governmental agencies, explaining the heightened security measures.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported a missile explosion 100 meters starboard of one of the ships without specifying the vessel’s name. Maritime industry analyst Lars Jensen noted, “If indeed it was the ‘Maersk Detroit,’ we must consider that 100 meters is not much compared to the vessel’s length, which is 300 meters.”

Post-incident, Maersk promptly suspended all transits in the area until further notice. Notably, Maersk and CMA CGM are the sole operators of U.S.-flagged containerships continuing Red Sea transits. Jensen suggests this implies no change in CMA CGM’s policy, warning that clients and shipping lines sharing space with CMA CGM should double-check their insurance coverage.

He further highlights potential implications for shipping lines utilizing French carrier CMA CGM for services in the Middle East to Europe route, including Hapag-Lloyd, Cosco, and OOCL in the GEM service, as well as Hapag-Lloyd, Cosco, OOCL, ONE, and Shipping Corporation in services named ‘IO3,’ ‘EPIC,’ ‘IP1,’ ‘IOS2,’ and ‘IPAK,’ respectively.

Jensen acknowledges the uncertainty of major shipping lines returning to the Suez route, with 2M Alliance already announcing network changes. He advises cargo owners to plan supply chain routes for semi-permanent detours around Africa, emphasizing that current disruptions exceed those of a more stable African route in the future.

Despite the apparent prolonged delays of 1-2 weeks (depending on geography), Jensen urges perspective, reminding stakeholders that pandemic-related disruptions once caused supply chain delays of up to 60 days, as reported by Flexport’s Ocean Freight On-Time Performance Index. The industry now faces a complex decision-making process in reassessing routes, security, and risk management strategies in response to this unexpected maritime incident.

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