Attacks on Shipping ‘Unacceptable’, Industry Associations Tell UN

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The wider shipping industry is calling on the United Nations to do more to protect supply chains in the wake of Iran’s seizure of the MSC Aries container ship near the Strait of Hormuz.

In a joint letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, 16 maritime shipping and transportation organizations called the Saturday seizure “unacceptable,” asking that member states of the organization work to facilitate the release of the 24 remaining seafarers still held on the vessel.

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The industry associations, which include the World Shipping Council (WSC), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) among others, also called for U.N. members to protect the safe transit of ships in the wake of both the Aries seizure and the ongoing Houthi attacks targeting vessels in the Red Sea.

“We have seen a worrying increase in the attacks on shipping. Shipping is not a target with no victims. Innocent seafarers have been killed, seafarers are being held hostage. This would be unacceptable on land, and it is unacceptable at sea,” the letter said. “The world would be outraged if four airliners were seized and held hostage with innocent souls onboard. Regrettably, there does not seem to be the same response or concern for the four commercial vessels and their crews being held hostage.”

The MSC Aries isn’t the only container vessel that has fallen victim to seizure. The Houthis, who are based out of Yemen but are backed by Iranian funding, are still holding the Galaxy Leader commercial ship and its 25 crew members hostage after the militia’s commandos boarded the vessel at sea on Nov. 19.

Such concerns about attacks by the Houthis or another other potential safety hazard have forced most major container shipping lines including MSC, Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, CMA CGM, Evergreen and Zim to divert their cargo-carrying vessels away from the Red Sea.

Instead, many of these ships sail around the southern part of Africa, tacking on an additional 10 to 14 days of time in transit out on the ocean, delaying shipments for some retail brands by multiple weeks.

With the seizure of the MSC Aries, ocean carriers now have both waterways of the Arabian Peninsula to be concerned about, potentially impacting shipping on a wider scale. Carrying 3,600 TEUs worth of cargo value exceeding $174 million, the ship was bringing goods to Algeria, Belgium, Egypt, Greece, India, Italy and Turkey, according to data from container tracking platform Vizion.

“Given the continually evolving and severe threat profile within the area, we call on you for enhanced coordinated military presence, missions and patrols in the region, to protect our seafarers against any further possible aggression,” said the letter.

Thus far, it appears one seafarer who had worked on the MSC Aries is safe.

An Indian woman who was a mariner on the ship returned to the country, India’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, adding it was in touch with the other 16 Indian crew members still being held aboard the vessel.

MSC said before the woman’s release that all crew were safe. Discussions with the Iranian authorities were in progress to secure their earliest release.

“Seafarers kept the world fed and warm during the pandemic with vital medicine, food and fuel delivered, irrespective of politics,” the shipping associations said. “Seafarers and the maritime sector are neutral and must not be politicized. It is the moral duty to protect seafarers.”

Tensions in the Middle East have escalated since Oct. 7, when more than 1,200 Israeli citizens were killed in a surprise attack by terrorist organization Hamas in the southern part of the country.

Later that month, the Yemen-based Houthi militants began firing missiles and drones at commercial vessels in the Red Sea—at the time claiming that the strikes were due to Israel’s ensuing assault against Hamas in Gaza.

These tensions have since spilled over into a direct conflict between Israel and Iran. On the day of the Aries seizure, Iran launched nearly 350 attack drones and missiles against Israel, most of which were intercepted outside of the country’s airspace. Iranian officials said the move was in retaliation for a presumed Israeli airstrike on April 1 on its consulate in Syria that killed a top Iranian general and others.

Israel responded with an airstrike of its own near a major air base in central Iran late Thursday.

Despite all the chaos and uncertainty in the region, Maersk said Thursday all operations to, from and within Israel are functioning as normal without disruption. This includes ocean transport to and from Israeli ports, air services and inland transportation, the ocean carrier said.

“The situation could change at short notice and we will inform customers of any changes as soon as possible,” Maersk said.