Shipping: How crises on the seas threaten global trade

This article is an acquisition from Capital, Capital's premium digital offering.

Shipping: How crises on the seas threaten global trade

This article is an acquisition from Capital, Capital's premium digital offering. For you as a stern PLUS subscriber, it is available exclusively here for ten days. It will then be available again exclusively for Capital subscribers at www.capital.de/plus. Like stern, the business magazine Capital belongs to RTL Deutschland.

The tanker "MV Chem Pluto" was actually allowed to feel safe shortly before Christmas: After loading oil in Saudi Arabia, it passed through the Strait of Hormuz and was now approaching the Indian coast when, around 10 a.m The explosion tore a huge hole in the freighter's stern. An explosive drone, probably from Iran, probably hit the ship more than 500 kilometers off the Iranian coast. Ships have been attacked around the Red Sea for months - but this was the first attack so far east.

The tanker made it to the port, but it was not the only crisis report for international shipping that day: within 24 hours, two freighters in the Red Sea came under rocket fire at the same time; American and Chinese warships dangerously got into each other's way off the Philippines; In the Baltic Sea, the Russians used electronic jammers to endanger the navigation of ferries and coastal ships off the Kaliningrad exclave. On top of that, traffic through the Panama Canal was stalled - a consequence of the climate crisis, which is increasingly causing water levels there to be too low.

Civilian shipping transports four-fifths of global goods – and is likely to experience days like December 23rd even more frequently. War, terrorism and piracy endanger the freedom of the world's oceans like never before. “The example of the Houthis will set a precedent,” say Berlin security circles. The guerrilla fighters from Yemen have been attacking ships around the Red Sea for months with Iranian support - in retaliation for the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip. It is becoming increasingly easier for troops based on their model, it is said in Berlin, to acquire modern weapons with which they can attack ships over hundreds of kilometers. These can even be ordered online: In January, a fixed-wing drone of the type XHZ-50 was for sale on Alibaba, Amazon's Chinese competitor, for $57,000 - a range of 2,500 kilometers and a load capacity of 40 to 60 kilograms of explosives.

The images from the bulk carrier “Genco Picardy” show the economic damage that a single such drone with a relatively small explosive charge can cause. On January 18, the Houthi terrorists' attack managed to tear a hole several meters in diameter in the ship's superstructure - such a blow below the waterline would probably have caused it to sink.

“The threat will spread” – emphasizes Joshua Hutchinson: The danger will spread. The bearded Brit, who served in the Marines for six years and trained triathletes for a long time, has been CEO of Ambrey - a global leader in maritime security - for a year and a half. In the rural west of England, surrounded by pastures and farms, danger reports from all over the world come in around the clock. Ambrey uses the Guardian digital system to continuously inform freighters and tankers on dangerous routes about the situation - and, if in doubt, protects ships with 14 of its own escort boats and 1,046 armed forces.

The security company supports 180 ships per day and organizes 520 transfers per month through particularly vulnerable straits and crisis areas. And increasingly, Hutchinson said in January, shipping companies are requesting armed escort squads to board their ships for passage. The Ambrey teams maintain direct contact with American and British naval headquarters to request support from warships in the event of attacks.

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