The Red Sea remains a hotbed for potential disruptions to global trade, primarily due to attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen. Despite efforts to protect commercial vessels through Operation Prosperity Guardian, Danish shipping giant Maersk’s recent decision to pause Red Sea and Gulf of Aden transits highlights the ongoing difficulties faced by this U.S.-led initiative. With an increasing number of commercial ships avoiding the Red Sea and opting for alternative routes, the impact on global trade is significant. In this article, we will delve into the challenges faced by Operation Prosperity Guardian and explore potential solutions to mitigate the threat and safeguard international shipping.

According to analytics provider MarineTraffic, the threat in the Red Sea has caused a significant number of commercial ships to divert from their usual routes and circumnavigate the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. This change has triggered an increase in container rates from Shanghai, and trade disruptions have amounted to $225 billion, with 330 vessels and 4.5 million containers affected. The value of a container bound for the Suez is estimated at $50,000, underscoring the economic impact of these disruptions.

Kpler, a global trade data provider, reported a substantial increase in the number of ships avoiding the Red Sea and opting for alternative routes. The Bab al-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, has shown a consistent downward trend in vessel crossings. This shift in maritime routes raises concerns for Operation Prosperity Guardian and highlights the need for naval coordination and effective deterrence measures.

U.S. Navy Rear Admiral (Ret.) Mark Montgomery emphasized the importance of naval coordination in ensuring the success of Operation Prosperity Guardian. Grouping commercial ships into loose convoys and deploying helicopters to prevent small vessels from approaching chokepoints are crucial strategies. However, such measures come with high costs, such as the expense of shooting down numerous missiles. Montgomery emphasized the need for deterrence by denial, shooting down Houthi missiles or drones, as well as deterrence by punishment, as exemplified by the U.S. helicopters’ actions over the weekend.

The U.S.-led coalition’s branding and composition have led to tensions among participating countries. Ami Daniel, CEO of data firm Windward, pointed out that France has chosen to protect companies headquartered in their country, leading to selective involvement. However, Montgomery dismissed this as an excuse, stating that the branding of coalition task forces has been consistent for three decades. Nevertheless, these concerns highlight the complexities of international cooperation in safeguarding global trade.

Operators are now faced with making individual decisions regarding whether to traverse the Red Sea or opt for alternative routes such as the Suez Canal. This can lead to equipment imbalances and potential shortages in Asia as transit times increase. Goetz Alebrand, head of ocean freight at DHL Global Forwarding, acknowledged that many carriers are choosing the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope to ensure the safety of their crews and cargo.

The threat to global trade in the Red Sea requires concerted efforts and effective strategies to safeguard commercial vessels and maintain the flow of international trade. Operation Prosperity Guardian faces significant challenges in coordinating naval activities and deterring potential attacks. Nevertheless, by implementing adequate deterrent measures and fostering international cooperation, it is possible to mitigate risks and ensure the continuity of global trade. As the U.S. takes the lead in this endeavor, it is crucial to address concerns and misunderstandings among participating countries to strengthen the effectiveness and unity of Operation Prosperity Guardian.

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