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Maritime Update

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2023

I would like to provide an update on the maritime security situation in the Red sea.

Global trade relies on the free flow of commerce around the world—free from intimidation and malice. The UK has been at the forefront of ensuring freedom of navigation around the world; this is rooted in our history and our belief in the rules-based order that provides opportunity for all.

In recent weeks we have seen an escalation in attacks against innocent maritime shipping in the Red sea, with 14 ships being attacked so far. These not only pose a risk to life to the merchant sailors on board, but are a clear menace to global commerce. Small groups must not hold international trade hostage through their hostile acts. Houthi capabilities include anti-ship ballistic missiles, which are capable of sinking ships and killing crew. This has international ramifications and we should be clear-eyed about the risks to life, regional economics and global prosperity. Unprovoked Houthi attacks are having a major impact, with a number of shipping companies already announcing a pause on passage through the Red sea.

More than 10% of the world’s merchant vessels pass through the narrow Bab al-Mandab strait in the Red sea, including tankers carrying much of the UK’s supply of liquefied natural gas. Around 50 large merchant ships each day pass through this channel. It is a critical artery for the world’s trade. These Houthi attacks could result in rising oil prices, a stranglehold on international commerce and increasing costs that will affect the whole international community, as well as the flagrant and intolerable risk to human life. The recent attack on the Red Ensign MV Swan Atlantic demonstrates the seriousness of the issue.

This an international problem that requires an international solution. Houthi maritime attacks will continue without a clear international response. It is in the interests of the global economy that we work with allies and partners to address this unacceptable situation.

I am proud that the UK has joined with key international allies in Operation Prosperity Guardian, a US-led international operation established to protect freedom of navigation throughout the Red sea and Gulf of Aden. Following my instructions, HMS Diamond has deployed to the area and has already shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle as part of this endeavour. This is the first surface-to-air engagement by a UK Royal Navy vessel since 1991. We will not stand idly by when the prosperity of us all is at risk. HMS Lancaster is also in the region to assist.