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The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economy

Recent drone and rocket attacks by Yemen's Houthi militants on merchant ships in the Red Sea are disrupting global maritime trade. Freight firms are forced to reroute through Africa, an unexpected consequence of the two-month-old Israel-Hamas war, which is rapidly escalating into a wider conflict with both regional and global ripple effects

Published: Dec 28, 2023 01:31:01 PM IST
Updated: Dec 28, 2023 01:37:06 PM IST

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS
A file photo of Houthi militants' helicopter hovering over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship it seized in the Red Sea on November 20, 2023. Recently, an India-bound Gabon-flagged crude carrier, MV Sai Baba, with 25 Indians onboard, came under a drone attack in the Southern Red Sea. Hours before this attack, a Liberia-flagged chemical tanker MV Chem Pluto, with 21 Indians onboard, was reported on fire after being hit by a rocket 'fired from Iran' according to the Pentagon. It was the first time the Pentagon has openly accused Iran of directly targeting ships since the start of Israel's war on the militant group Hamas, which Tehran backs. Indian Navy sent its guided-missile destroyers to assess the situation and provide assistance.

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS
A file photo of armed Houthi fighters upon landing on a ship's deck it seized in the Red Sea in late November. The Iran-backed Houthi militia, who control much of Yemen, has disrupted world trade for weeks with attacks on commercial vessels passing through the Bab-al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea, claiming solidarity with Palestinians besieged by Israel in Gaza. Despite Houthi's claim, the targets have included ships not headed to or affiliated with Israel. The US announced a multinational maritime security initiative in the Red Sea in response to an attack on vessels by Houthis.

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Mati Milstein/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The Red Sea waterway is the shortest sea route between Europe and Asia. The global economy relies on the sea and shipping as ever, accounting for around 80 percent of global trade. About 30 percent of the world's shipping traffic passes through the Red Sea, a key waterway between Egypt's Suez Canal and the Bab al-Mandab, a strait between Yemen and Djibouti where most attacks occur.

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images
A general view of the Cape Town Docks near the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Major oil companies and shipping firms—including MSC—have suspended operations through the Red Sea waterway in response to the attacks, taking the longer journey through Africa instead, adding costs and delays expected to be compounded in the coming weeks. Crude oil prices have risen on these concerns. The crisis couldn't come at a worse time for the global shipping industry, which is in a slump as global industrial output has shrunk and the post-pandemic consumer demand has normalised.

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Mahmoud KHALED / AFP
A container ship sails along Egypt's Suez Canal near the canal's central city of Ismailia. According to a Global Trade Research Initiative report, India is heavily reliant on the Red Sea route for trade and energy imports and faces increased costs and security risks. The rerouting of ships is expected to significantly impact Indian trade, causing a sharp increase in charter, freight and insurance costs as vessels will take 15 more days to get to Europe.

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu via Getty Images
Thousands of Houthi graduates who completed their military training attend a military parade with their light and heavy weapons in Amran, Yemen, on December 20, 2023. The Houthi rebels control the Red Sea coastline, as well as the Yemeni capital, Sana'a and the north—which is about one-third of Yemen's territory and 70 percent of its population—where they collect taxes and print money. The attacks on commercial vessels began after the Israel-Hamas war on October 7 when the Houthis declared their support for Hamas and said they would attack any ship travelling to Israel. Since then, they have attacked several commercial vessels with drones and ballistic missiles—without confirming if the ships were Israeli cargo.

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images
A Yemeni sells watches displaying a portrait of the Houthi leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi on a street in Sana'a, Yemen, on November 20, 2023. Members of a minority Shia Muslim sect originating from Yemen's northwestern Saada province, the Houthis take their name from the movement's founder, Hussein al-Houthi. They emerged as a rebel group fighting the government of Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh in the 1990s. The Houthis seized the capital, Sana'a, overthrowing Saleh amidst Arab Spring–linked protests in 2014. The international community do not recognise Houthis as Yemen's legitimate government.

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Saleh Al-OBEIDI / AFP
Poor Yemeni families receive flour rations and other basic food supplies from charities in the province of Lahj, in southern Yemen, in early 2022. Since 2014, Yemen, the Arab world's poorest, has endured a brutal civil war that pits the Houthis against Yemen's government. A coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia and UAE and supported by the US backs the government. By the start of 2022, the war had caused an estimated 377,000 deaths—mostly due to malnutrition, unsafe water, and poor medical services, all aggravated by conflict—and displaced four million people, according to the UN, sparking one of the world's worst humanitarian crises. The violence has subsided since a UN-brokered ceasefire in 2022.

The Houthi militia: A calamitous drone-strike on the global economyImage: Mohammed Hamoud/Getty Images
A shadow of a Houthi fighter over trampled-on US and Israeli flags at the tomb of Saleh al-Samad, a Houthi leader, in Sana'a, Yemen, on November 20, 2023. The Houthis - along with Hamas and Hezbollah - declare themselves to be part of the Iran-backed "axis of resistance" against Israel, the US and the wider West. The Houthi rebels are controlled by Lebanon's Hezbollah group, who have been providing them with extensive military training since 2014, according to a report by the BBC. The substantial funding and weaponry from Iran are helping. Since October, the Houthis have been regularly firing missiles and drones at Israel, a distance of 1,000 miles from Yemen, their longest-range strikes yet. The group's official slogan: "God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam."

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