Shipping traffic slows near Israel as tensions in region continue

Activity at Israel’s ports has slowed but not halted after the attack by Islamist group Hamas on towns close to Gaza, followed by a build-up of Israeli forces in the region, possibly ahead of a ground invasion. The port of Ashkelon, very close to the northern border of the Gaza Strip, has also been taken over by the Israeli Navy. Commercial shipping is not allowed to enter.

The cost of insurance for Israeli shipments has risen significantly.

The main Israeli ports of Ashdod, still in the south but further up the coast and Haifa in the north, remained open. However, shipping and maritime security companies were reviewing their operations for Israel, reported Reuters, citing industry sources.

Noah Trowbridge of UK-based maritime risk advisory and security company Dryad Global said that “Israeli ports are deemed to be at heightened risk. With continuous rocket barrages expected from Gaza, alongside the potential for a protracted conflict, the damage to port infrastructure becomes increasingly probable.”

Ashdod Port said that “the port’s berths are open as much as needed and we are offering a response to meet all Israel’s needs”.

Hamburg-based Hapag Lloyd said that Ashdod port had imposed restrictions on the loading or discharging of dangerous cargo, which includes flammable, explosive or toxic substances, adding that the company was monitoring its shipping services to Israel.

Shipbroker BRS said that the principal threat to shipping coming into Israel was from rockets fired from Gaza and from “hostile forces” on the ground. Israel claims to have cleared all of the invading forces and to have secured the border between Israel and Gaza. “Since Gaza has a coastline, direct threats to shipping inside Israeli waters cannot be ruled out,” BRS said.

Ships pay an additional war risk premium for seven-day voyages to Israel. After Saturday’s attacks additional premiums rose ten fold to around 0.15-0.2% of the value of a ship. This compared with a war risk premium of 0.0125% earlier this year.

Israel relies on seaborne imports for the majority of its grain, as well as quantities of fish, beef, nuts and consumer food products.

Copenhagen’s AP Moller Maersk said on Tuesday that it was continuing to accept container bookings to and from the country. Israel-based container shipper ZIM said it was offering its vessels for “national needs”. “The company’s ships will be directed, as a first priority, to transfer cargo from anywhere in the world to Israel according to the requirements and needs of the Ministry of Defence and the government of Israel,” ZIM CEO Eli Glickman said on social media.

INTERTANKO, the association which represents the majority of the world’s tanker fleet, said in an advisory to members this week that it expected tensions to rise in the broader Middle East Gulf and Gulf of Oman, with heightened risks for shipping connected to Israel. It noted that in the recent past “ships and cargos with a connection to Israel or Israeli nationals (however tenuous) have also been subject to attack”. Those attacks have invariably been linked to Iran and have occurred in the Arabian Gulf.