Two of the world’s largest shipping lines have suspended all voyages through the Red Sea following a spate of recent attacks on ships.
Danish giant Maersk said it would “pause” all container shipments until further notice after a near miss involving its Maersk Gibraltar ship on Thursday.
Meanwhile, German firm Hapag-Lloyd said it was also suspending sailings until at least Monday after one of its ships was targeted on Friday. A spokesman added: “We will then decide on the period after that.”
It comes after a series of attacks claimed by Yemen‘s Houthi rebels in the Bab al Mandeb Strait, at the southern end of the Red Sea.
The group has vowed to target vessels it believes are on their way to and from Israelin an attempt to put pressure on the country to stop the bombing The Gaza Strip in the middle of it war with Hamas.
The attacks have raised fears that global supply chains could be seriously disrupted if they continue.
The narrow, busy waterway is an important maritime trade route for ships heading to and from the Suez Canal.
At least two cargo ships were hit in the area on Friday, with the Houthis again claiming responsibility.
The MSC Palatium III was hit by a missile, and officials said it was unclear if anyone was injured.
Earlier in the day, a ship operated by Hapag-Lloyd, Al Jasrah, was hit by an unidentified projectile.
The strike allegedly started a fire on board and caused a container to fall into the sea.
A company spokesman said no crew members were injured.
Houthis vow to “intercept all ships bound for Israeli ports”
The Houthis say they will continue to threaten shipping until Israel listens to their demands.
Rebel spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree said: “The Yemeni armed forces confirm that they will continue to prevent all ships bound for Israeli ports from navigating [Red Sea] until they bring in the food and medicine that our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip need.”
A Maersk spokesman said: “Following the near-miss incident involving Maersk Gibraltar yesterday and another attack on a container ship today, we have instructed all Maersk ships in the area to pass through the Bab al Mandeb Strait to suspend their travel until further notice.”
Earlier this week, the Norwegian-owned MT Strinda tanker caught fire after it too hit by a missile off the coast of Yemen.
Shipping company Mowinckel said the vessel was carrying biofuel from Malaysia to Italy, but later revealed it was also “tentatively” scheduled to make a stop at the Israeli port of Ashdod.
On Wednesday, the US Navy said shot down a suspected Houthi drone who was heading towards one of his warships.
It happened when the commercial vessel Ardmore Encounter was attacked by small boats and then by two missiles.
In November, also the Houthis seized a cargo ship allegedly linked to Israel in the Red Sea which they still hold near the port city of Hodeida.
Control of Yemen is divided between Iran-backed Houthi rebels and Saudi-backed government forces with British military support.
The country has been locked in a devastating civil war in recent years, although a temporary ceasefire is currently in place.
Last weekend, Israel’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi called on its Western allies to do more to tackle the attacks – warning that his country would “act to lift this blockade” if the threats continued.