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Red sea update: Drop in bulk carrier activity leads overall decline in Bab el Mandeb transits

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Key data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence for the week ending March 3, 2024

Numbers reflect cargo-carrying vessels of 10,000dwt+. Pre-Houthi attack ‘normal’ average taken for the period November 6 - December 3, 2023. 

  • Total transits through the Bab el Mandeb strait were down 9% in the week ending March 3 after two weeks of growth
  • The decline was led by bulk carriers with only 92 vessels of this type active in the region last week, down 44% on the ‘normal’ average
  • Suez Canal transits were down 16% compared to the previous seven days, with the number of bulk carriers falling to 88 from 117 previously and product tankers falling to 19 from 33
  • Transits by vessels around the Cape of Good Hope increased 5% compared with last week to 731, which is 86% up on the ‘normal’ average and 135% higher than the corresponding week last year

The number of bulk carriers transiting the Bab el-Mandeb Strait plunged to a fresh low for the week ending March 3 as Houthi attacks on commercial shipping pushed overall traffic in the region 53% lower compared with the year-ago period.

Some 92 bulk carriers were tracked through the strait over the week, down from 98 the previous seven days, data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence shows.

Until now, this vessel type had been the most resilient to diversions around the Cape of Good Hope as ships sought to avoid drone and missile strikes from the Yemen-based rebels over the past three months that targeted the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Overall traffic through Bab el-Mandeb declined 9% week-on-week to 241 from 264 cargo-carrying ships over 10,000 dwt, the first drop seen since mid-February after two weeks of growth.

Transits had stabilised amid fewer attacks from Houthis, which have targeted more than 60 vessels since hijacking ro-ro carrier Galaxy Leader on November 19 to protest Israel’s war on Gaza.

The figures highlight the recalibration of risk underway as shipowners and charterers weigh the additional costs and time of diverting around the Cape of Good Hope over using the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aden that links Asia and the Middle East Gulf to the Mediterranean.

Bulk carriers shipping grains, minerals and ores were the biggest user of the trade artery, second only to containerships before conflict began.



Houthi attacks have intensified this week, including a near-miss on the Liberian-flagged MSC Sky II on March 4, and the shooting down of more Houthi drones and missiles by US forces on March 5.

Product tanker transits through Bab el-Mandeb, the narrow chokepoint linking the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, rose to 43, from 33 the prior week, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence data.

The number of containerships and general cargo ships are stable but respectively remain 76% and 24% lower than average, analysis shows. No liquefied natural gas carriers have used the strait since mid-January, while only two liquefied petroleum gas carriers and car carriers were tracked reflecting a 92% drop in average weekly traffic.

Similar drops are seen across vessel types for Suez Canal transits, which, at 216 vessels, were 16% lower week-on-week and are down 47% on the year-ago period.

Suez transit numbers for the week ending March 3 are the second-lowest in records that began in early November. Some 205 transits were seen for the week ending February 18.

For the latest insight, analysis and data, Lloyd’s List subscribers can visit our Red Sea Risk hub here.


Geopolitical Risk webinar: Now on-demand

Our webinar which took place on the 7th March looked at the impact the Red Sea attacks are having on commercial shipping, the evolving sanctions regime and other key geopolitical factors impacting the maritime industry.

For more information and to watch on-demand, follow this link.

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