More oil tankers shun southern Red Sea after US-led strikes in Yemen

By Robert Harvey, Natalie Grover and Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – At least six more oil tankers were steering clear of the southern Red Sea on Monday, as disruptions on the vital route for energy shipping increase in the wake of U.S.-led strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen.

Following the strikes, the U.S.-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) based in Bahrain warned all ships to avoid the Bab al-Mandab Strait at the south end of the Red Sea for several days on Friday, according to tanker body INTERTANKO.

Prior to the U.S. and British strikes on Yemen it had been mostly container ships which were avoiding the Red Sea, with oil tanker traffic largely unchanged in December.

But since the CMF’s warning, a growing number of oil tankers are avoiding the region, increasing the potential for disruptions to east-west oil supply via the Suez Canal.

Reuters counted a six tankers to have altered their course since the strikes on Monday, making a total of at least fifteen vessels to do so since the start of the strikes, ship tracking data from LSEG and Kpler showed.

The tankers Torm Innovation, Proteus Harvonne, and Alfios I appeared to have turned away from the Suez Canal in favour of the longer route around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope for voyages to Europe and the U.S..

The Pacific Julia and STI Topaz are also heading straight for the Cape route.

The Octa Lune performed a U-turn in the northern part of the Red Sea on Jan. 12 and has returned to the Mediterranean with a Taiwan-bound cargo of naphtha.

Tankers tracked by Reuters on Friday that had diverted or paused have either taken the longer Cape route or paused in the Gulf of Aden or northern Red Sea.

Taking the longer route around the Cape can add up to three weeks’ sailing time.

The list of diversions could grow as shipowners exercise policies of navigating away from the Red Sea.

Tanker owners including Torm, Hafnia and Stena Bulk said they would avoid Bab al-Mandab from Friday, while Euronav reaffirmed its temporary suspension of transits through the Red Sea.

(This story has been corrected to say ‘Maritime’, not ‘Military’, in paragraph 2)

(Reporting by Robert Harvey, Natalie Grover, Ahmad Ghaddar and Jonathan Saul; editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely)