New Freighters Could Ease Red Sea Cargo Disruptions

After the Houthi militia started attacking container ships in the Red Sea last year, the cost of shipping goods from Asia soared by over 300 percent, prompting fears that supply chain disruptions might once again roil the global economy.

The Houthis, who are backed by Iran and control northern Yemen, continue to threaten ships, forcing many to take a much longer route around Africa’s southern tip. But there are signs that the world will probably avoid a drawn-out shipping crisis.

One reason for the optimism is that a huge number of container ships, ordered two to three years ago, are entering service. Those extra vessels are expected to help shipping companies maintain regular service as their ships travel longer distances. The companies ordered the ships when the extraordinary surge in world trade that occurred during the pandemic created enormous demand for their services.

“There’s a lot of available capacity out there, in ports and ships and containers,” said Brian Whitlock, a senior director and analyst at Gartner, a research firm that specializes in logistics.

Shipping costs remain elevated, but some analysts expect the robust supply of new ships to push down rates later this year.

Before the attacks, ships from Asia would traverse the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, which typically handles an estimated 30 percent of global container traffic, to reach European ports. Now, most go around the Cape of Good Hope, making those trips 20 to 30 percent longer, increasing fuel use and crew costs.

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