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Updated December 19th, 2023 at 17:42 IST

Explained: The Red Sea crisis and why it is crucial to the world

As the tensions in the Red Sea escalate, the United States on Monday announced a 10-nation coalition to tackle the Iran-backed militant group Houthis

HMS Diamond firing its Sea Viper missile to engage and shoot down an aerial drone over the Red Sea
HMS Diamond firing its Sea Viper missile to engage and shoot down an aerial drone over the Red Sea | Image:AP
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As the tensions in the Red Sea escalate, the United States on Monday announced a 10-nation coalition to tackle Iran-backed militant group Houthi's missile attacks on the ships transiting through the Red Sea. In recent weeks, Houthi militants based in Yemen have ramped up their attacks on commercial shipping vessels that are travelling through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. The Yememese militant group started to attack these vessels in response to Israel's ongoing bombardment of Gaza. 

In light of this, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin announced the 10-nation task force to tackle the group. “Countries that seek to uphold the foundational principle of freedom of navigation must come together to tackle the challenge posed by this non-state actor,” Austin said in a statement on Monday night. “This is an international challenge that demands collective action. Therefore today I am announcing the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, an important new multinational security initiative," he added. Amid the chaos that is leaving the international order in complete disarray, here's a look at what is happening in the Red Sea. 

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What's happening?

In a span of a few weeks, the Iran-backed group has been able to disrupt one of the most significant trade routes on the planet. Houthis have a strong base in the Yemenese capital of Sana’a and from this base, they have targeted ships that came near the Bab-el-Mandeb strait as they enter the Red Sea on their journey to the Suez Canal.

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Locator map for Bab al-Mandab Strait, Image: Google maps

Initially, the militant group claimed that they would attack only ships travelling to Israel due to the country's atrocities in Gaza. However, they eventually started to attack vessels flagged to other countries with no connection to Israel. This has impacted the international trade to a great extent. In light of this, Navies belonging to France, the UK and the US have shot down multiple drones and missiles that were launched by the militant group. Shortly after the 10-nation coalition was announced, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a member of the Houthi leadership said that the militia will continue to confront any sort of coalition formed by the United States to tackle his forces. 

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin makes a joint statement with Israel Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, after their meeting about Israel’s military operation in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, Image: AP

Why Red Sea is so crucial to the world? 

The availability of several consumer goods is dependent on the security of the tiny strait which is just 20 miles wide. This tiny strait called the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait is located between Djibouti and Yemen. This is the exact region where the Houthis have unleashed a lethal attack. The strait which usually remains jam-packed is the southern entrance to the Red Sea which eventually connects to the Suez Canal. According to The Guardian, about 12% of global trade passes through the Red Sea and the transportation of billions of dollars of traded goods relies on this narrow region. 

a view of the HMS Diamond off the coast of Scotland, Oct. 4, 2020, Image: AP

The wider impact of these attacks

The immediate effect of these attacks is the instability the world is facing, there are several peripheral effects as well. One of the most prominent effects of these attacks is the rise in the cost of insuring vessels that typically travel through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. This inevitably increases the cost of shipping goods through the Red Sea, which eventually increases the price of the products. 

A BP logo is seen at a petrol station in London, on March 8, 2022, Image: AP

In light of this, on Monday, BP announced that it would halt all shipments of oil and gas through the Red Sea for the safety of its employees. However, the prices of oil and natural gas immediately rose after the announcement, with its impact being felt by end consumers as well. As many countries in the world struggle with high inflation, a rise in oil and gas – coupled with disruption to the global supply chain – could make matters even worse. 

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Published December 19th, 2023 at 17:41 IST

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