US announces mission to counter ship attacks in Red Sea

Govt considers sending Navy vessel to Red Sea

The US has announced a 10-nation coalition to guide ships through the Red Sea following escalating missile and drone attacks by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.

Tuesday’s announcement came as British oil giant BP became the latest to suspend transit through the crucial shipping channel after Huthi rebels said they had attacked two “Israeli-linked” vessels.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the multinational operation to safeguard commerce in the region while on a trip to Bahrain, home to the US Navy’s headquarters in the Middle East.

Britain, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain will join the US in joint patrols in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

“This is an international challenge that demands collective action. Therefore today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative,” Austin said.

However, his statement left many questions unanswered, including whether the other nations are willing to do what US warships have done in recent days – shoot down Houthi missiles and drones, and rush to the aid of commercial ships under attack.

The US last week asked Australia to send a warship to join the operation. But, according to The Australian, the request was modified after the Albanese government made it clear its primary focus was the Indo-Pacific.

Defence force chief General Angus Campbell will join a virtual meeting hosted by US officials late on Tuesday.

Mounting attacks by Houthi rebels on ships Sea have disrupted maritime trade as leading global freight firms reroute around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the Suez Canal.

The group said it launched a drone attack on two cargo vessels in the area on Monday, the latest in a series of missile and drone strikes on shipping that it sayd are a response to Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip.

Brigadier General Yahya Saree, the Houthi military spokesman, said they launched what he described as “naval aircraft” at the Cayman Islands-flagged Swan Atlantic, a chemical and oil products carrier, and Panama-flagged MSC CLARA cargo ship.

Major freight companies have begun to sail around Africa instead, adding costs and delays that are expected to be compounded in coming weeks, according to industry analysts.

About 15 per cent of world shipping traffic transits via the Suez Canal, the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

The war between Israel and Hamas, which began on October 7, has sent shock waves through the region and threatened to cause a broader conflict.

Oil tanker group Frontline said on Monday its vessels would avoid passages through the waterway. Its decision, along with BP’s, are considered signs the crisis is broadening to include energy shipments.

Crude oil prices rose on those concerns on Monday.

Later on Monday, Norwegian energy group Equinor said it had rerouted “a few ships” carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas away from the Red Sea.

Tanker firm Euronav said it was avoiding the Red Sea until further notice.

The Houthi attacks were also forcing companies to rethink their connections with Israel, with Taiwan’s Evergreen Marine saying on Monday it had decided to temporarily stop accepting Israeli cargo.

Visiting Israel on Monday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said no group or state should test the United States’ resolve.

“In the Red Sea we’re leading a multinational maritime task force to uphold the bedrock principle of freedom of navigation,” he said.

-with AAP

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