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Shipping is under attack in the Red Sea


Shipping in the Red Sea is under attack. Houthi rebels based in Yemen are launching missiles and drones at vessels sailing to and from the Suez Canal. They say they're targeting ships linked to Israel as a way to support Hamas. Tankers and cargo ships from other nations have also been hit. So how's the shipping industry dealing with all this? Martin Kroger is CEO of the German Shipowners' Association. He joins us now from Hamburg. Martin, we're hearing about another report of an attack on a carrier ship this morning. So how risky is it right now for these big ships in the Red Sea?

MARTIN KROGER: Good morning. It is very risky and a very severe and serious situation down in the Red Sea for our ships. And, yeah, it is just a totally unacceptable attack that we witnessed over the weekend again, one must say, because we've seen about 20 ships being attacked already. So this is a very serious situation we're dealing with.

MARTÍNEZ: I know back in March of 2020, your organization had also called on Russia not to attack ships stuck in the Black Sea. How similar are these two situations?

KROGER: It is comparable because it is yet another situation where a state actor or a political group is actually taking merchant shipping as hostage in a conflict which is totally unrelated to commercial shipping. So in a way, yes, you can, of course, compare the situation where innocent seafarers and unarmed ships are attacked in a political conflict they have no relation with.

MARTÍNEZ: What kind of things are being shipped right now on these ships?

KROGER: Oh, it's basically everything that - probably everything that you own in your house is on a vessel or has been on a vessel. So it starts with a TV set, and it ends with oil shipment, energy shipment, wheat. We basically ship any product that the world needs, and we ship it through the Suez Canal, actually, which is at the end of the Red Sea. And it is this area that is of such major importance for global trade because about 12% of global trade of any product that you might need in your life is going through that area.

MARTÍNEZ: I know Hapag-Lloyd, one of your members, also one of the world's largest shipping companies - they put a pause on Red Sea shipping. I mean, how are other members of your organization responding to this?

KROGER: They're basically all responding the same. They're all stopping their ships in the moment. At least, the major container liner companies are doing this. And we are in constant negotiations with the naval forces in the area and also the command centers in the area, how the security situation is evolving. But for the time being, we have stopped all traffic because the security situation is so tense.

MARTÍNEZ: What could nations do to help? I mean, are we talking armed military escorts?

KROGER: It is probably the most pressing measure that you can take to, for example, you know, have military vessels, naval vessels, forming a convoy together with merchant ships to bring them safely out of the area or in the area and trans-passing over to the Suez Canal. Another possibility might be an aerial coverage by certain naval forces that cover a certain area of this sea leg. So there are many ways and means how you can protect merchant shipping. But as we learned in the past and also in some piracy cases, the setup of convoys is actually quite an effective measure.

MARTÍNEZ: And if it becomes too dangerous, I mean, what could this mean for the economy - if it becomes too dangerous to ship anything?

KROGER: If it becomes too dangerous, you need to choose an alternative route for the ships. They're not that many in the area.


KROGER: So what you can do is you sail around Africa, basically.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Martin Kroger of the German Shipowners' Association, thank you very much.

KROGER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.