Maersk and CMA CGM restore some Red Sea transits, but industry is far from unanimous on best strategy

The six to 10 major container carriers are taking differing views on the best way to react to the ongoing crisis in the Red Sea. This in part reflects differing perceptions of risk, and in part different attitudes to agreed levels of risk.

The deployment of Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) – a new international security coalition in the region – has seen several carriers including Denmark-based Maersk beginning to restore some services. Others, such as Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd, are not yet satisfied that the risk outweighs the reward. Maersk has begun to reverse some of its 15 route changes on an individual basis. In a customer advisory on Sunday December 24th , only five days after the announcement of OPG, Maersk said it was preparing to allow vessels to resume the transit, and that it was working on a plan for the first vessels to make the transit.

The schedules posted to the company’s website now show ships on several of the routes listed as “Continue via Suez Canal,” while on the same route, other vessels are still listed as “Diverted via Cape of Good Hope.” Several dozen container vessels will be restored to the routes via the Red Sea, claimed Reuters.

Maersk had paused all transits on December 15th after one of its ships was among those targeted by the Houthis for an attack. On December 19th it announced the rerouting around the Cape Of Good Hope, and then announced its U-turn, both metaphorical and in some cases literal, after the US took action through the formation of OPG.

France’s CMA CGM quickly followed Maersk and told customers that some vessels have made the transit through the Red Sea and that it was “currently devising plans for the gradual increase in the number of vessels transiting through the Suez Canal.”

“We are taking all possible steps to minimize delays and inconvenience to our vessels and cargoes whilst making sure maximum safety is ensured at all times in this uncertain context still prevailing in the south Red Sea area,” CMA CGM wrote in its December 26th advisory to customers.

The update from CMA CGM revealed that the company had so far rerouted 13 northbound and 15 southbound vessels, while some others had made the transit through the Red Sea; a decision the company said was “based on an in-depth evaluation of the security landscape” and its commitment to the security and safety of seafarers.

Bloomberg Intelligence said last week that container freight spot rates had risen by up to a quarter since the start of December 2023. OPG was reported to have advised carriers that the risk appeared to be greatest during daylight hours. All the drone attacks and missiles had been fired from Yemen during daylight.

Switzerland-based MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co said last week that “until their safety can be ensured MSC will continue to reroute vessels booked for Suez transit via the Cape of Good Hope.”

It can be harder to establish the thoughts of some of the Asian carriers. Even CNN could get nothing out of Taiwan-based Evergreen Line, which referred the news organization back to its December 18th statement that it would be rerouting vessels “until further notice”. Come December 25th it had nothing to add to this.

The focus has been on container ships and their operators, but in other sectors the disruption has been lower. AIS signals for example show bulkers and crude oil tankers making the transit. What will be keenly awaited will be the figures from the Suez Canal Authority. It has not provided an update since mid-December on its daily transits