Global oil prices jumped Monday after energy giant BP announced it had stopped sending tankers through the Red Sea, a vital shipping lane that has become an increasingly dangerous route due to drone and missile attacks targeting merchant ships launched by the Houthi armed group in Yemen. .
BP’s announcement raised fears of further disruptions to shipments through the Suez Canal, a major channel for transporting crude and refined oil products.
In response to growing fears of disruption, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III announced Monday evening that at least nine other countries have agreed to join the United States in a joint security operation in the Red Sea, where some navies from these countries have already thwarted drone attacks by the Houthis, who control much of northern Yemen.
The recent escalation of attacks “threatens the free flow of trade, endangers innocent seafarers and violates international law,” Austin said in a statement. Countries participating in the operation include Britain, France, Canada, Italy, Norway and Spain, he said.
The Houthis have been staging attacks on ships in the region since Hamas’ attacks on Israel on October 7. They threatened all ships owned and operated by Israel, as well as any ships heading to Israeli ports. The Houthis and Hamas, which controls Gaza, are supported by Iran.
“BP has decided to temporarily suspend all transits via the Red Sea,” BP said in a statement on Monday, referring to “the deteriorating security situation in maritime transport.”
Over the weekend, military forces from the United States and other countries reported shooting down more than a dozen drones in the region. Monday in Tel Aviv, before the task force announcement, Mr. Austin warned that “Iran’s support for Houthi attacks on commercial shipping must end.”
Shortly after Mr. Austin’s remarks, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a senior Houthi official, defended the attacks on social media as an attempt to force Israel to end its military attack on Gaza. The United States has “no right to speak about international law, which your airstrikes and rockets have torn apart and buried under the ruins of Gaza and Yemen,” Mr. al-Houthi said. said.
Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, rose more than 2% on Monday, approaching $80 a barrel. Oil prices came under downward pressure due to rising production, particularly in the United States, and signs that widespread economic weakness would dampen demand. Last month, producer group OPEC Plus announced production cuts to stabilize the market, but global oil markets had little reaction until recently.
Shortly after the October 7 attacks, Chevron halted production at a natural gas platform located in Israeli waters off the Gaza Strip, but was able to restart it a few weeks later. The disruption of shipping through the Suez Canal could have a greater impact on the global economy.
As the Red Sea has become a hot spot, major shipping companies – including Evergreen, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping – have announced in recent days that they will temporarily stop sending ships to the region.
One of the main risks is that if attacks on shipping persist, oil companies and other shippers will stop using the Suez Canal for an extended period. Such a change could disrupt the flow of oil from countries like Saudi Arabia and Iraq, where BP operates a major oil field, to Europe and elsewhere.
Oil tankers from the Persian Gulf region regularly cross the Red Sea to reach the Suez Canal, which serves as a channel to the Mediterranean Sea. Ships from Saudi Arabia also unload crude into a pipeline called SUMED that runs from Ain Sokhna, a port and storage area south of Suez, to a terminal near the Egyptian city of Alexandria.
Viktor Katona, an analyst at Kpler, a company that tracks the transportation of raw materials, said the volume of oil and petroleum products moving through the Suez Canal had already fallen sharply this month, to about a third of usual flows. . About 12 percent of crude oil and refined products traded by sea typically pass through the canal, Katona estimated.
If the slowdown continues, he said, tankers will have to take a much longer route around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. In this case, not only would tankers consume more fuel during transportation, but freight rates and insurance premiums would most likely increase, thereby increasing costs for consumers.
“It’s a pressure that’s building up in the system,” he said.
Viviane Néréim reports contributed.