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The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss heightened tensions in the Red Sea following a series of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
UN Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari warned that a military escalation would have adverse political and humanitarian consequences.
“The United Nations continues to warn against the adverse political, security, economic and humanitarian repercussions of military escalation in the Red Sea and the risk of exacerbating regional tensions,” the Assistant Secretary-General said.
“As to the overall situation in the region, we encourage all concerned parties to avoid further escalation and de-escalate tensions and threats,” Khiari added. “This is critical so that traffic through the Red Sea can return to its normal state and the risk of Yemen being dragged into a regional conflagration be avoided.”
The militants have said they are targeting vessels either linked to or heading to Israel in an act of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
However, there have also been attacks on vessels that have no connection to Israel.
As a result, many major shipping companies have suspended operations in the Red Sea and have re-directed their cargo ships along the longer route around the tip of South Africa.
Arsenio Dominguez, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization, addressed the Council via a video link on the need to protect the freedom of maritime navigation, and the potential impact of the Houthi attacks on international trade.
“A significant numbers of companies, around 18 shipping companies have already decided to re-route their vessels around South Africa in order to reduce the attacks on vessels and the impact this has on seafarers in particular,” Dominguez said. “This represents an additional 10 days to the journey and of course a negative impact on trade, and an increase in freight rates.”
There are concerns that the disruption could see higher shipping costs and oil prices in the short-term.