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Editorial of the Day (29 Dec): Houthi attacks: a threat to global shipping?

Context: The recent drone attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels have raised concerns about maritime security, disrupting global trade routes and potentially impacting economies.

How do these events impact India and the world?

  • Impact on Global Trade: Susan Stigant, Director of Africa Programs with the U.S. Institute of Peace, notes that approximately 12% of global trade traverses the Red Sea, making the safety of this route critical for international commerce.
    • Shipping Industry’s Response: Major shipping companies, including Maersk, are rerouting vessels around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope to avoid risks, leading to increased fuel and operating costs, as well as extended travel times.
  • Implications for India and Global Economy: India, reliant on maritime trade, faces disruptions in supply chains and potential inflation in goods prices due to increased shipping costs. The global economy also bears the brunt of these changes, with extended delivery times affecting manufacturing and trade.
  • Revenue and Operational Impact on Strategic Locations: The avoidance of the Red Sea route affects the revenue of the Suez Canal and alters the operational dynamics of ports in Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden.
  • Extended Shipping Durations: The diversion of shipping routes can add one to two weeks to voyages, disrupting schedules and elevating fuel and insurance costs, with broader economic consequences for both producers and consumers.

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What Is Being Done To Address This?

  • Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPS): Initiated by U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin this multinational security initiative operates under the Combined Maritime Forces, led by Task Force 153.
    • OPS aims to secure the Red Sea, a critical response to the heightened security concerns.
  • Reassessing Shipping Routes: Following the announcement of OPS, various companies have begun reconsidering their decisions to reroute ships, potentially resuming their original paths through the Red Sea.
  • Indian Naval and Coast Guard Actions: The Indian Navy and Coast Guard have intensified their presence and surveillance in the region.
    • Four destroyers are deployed to counter piracy and drone attacks.
    • Additionally, India utilises P8I long-range patrol aircraft, Dorniers, Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and Coast Guard ships for comprehensive threat mitigation.
  • Continuous Anti-Piracy Deployment: Since October 2008, the Indian Navy has maintained a continuous presence in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations, further strengthened since 2017 with deployments at critical maritime choke points.
  • Information Fusion Centre for Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR): Located in Gurugram, this centre plays a vital role in monitoring regional activities and coordinating communication between the Navy and maritime companies, emphasising coordination for operational responses and assistance to vessels in the Indian Ocean Region.

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