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UN Security Council Endorses Defense Against Houthi Attacks

USS Mason
Sailors from the destroyer USS Mason launch a small boat in the Red Sea during a patrol in support of international shipping security, Jan. 4 (USN)

Published Jan 10, 2024 11:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Wednesday, hours after Yemen's Houthi rebels launched their largest attack yet on international shipping, the UN Security Council passed a resolution opposing the group's campaign and calling for an end to the drone and missile strikes. 

The Houthi militant group controls a large swathe of western Yemen, including the vital seaport at Hodeidah. As an expression of solidarity with Gaza, it has launched a campaign targeting Israel-bound and Israel-linked shipping in the Red Sea. The campaign has also menaced vessels with no clear linkage to Israel, and the overwhelming majority of east-west container traffic has diverted around the Cape of Good Hope in order to avoid the Houthi threat.

Operators in less high-profile segments have largely continued to use the waterway: Most tanker and bulker traffic continues, and many car carriers are using the Red Sea as well, with one notable exception. Top global ro/ro line Wallenius Wilhelmsen announced this week that it would be suspending transits through Bab el-Mandeb and using the Cape route instead. 

This disruption affects a substantial share of the global economy, including economies in the developing world. It has persisted for months without a military response, aside from air defense. UK Defence Minister Grant Shapps hinted that this might change on Wednesday, telling reporters to "watch this space." 

The UN Security Council resolution could be read as an endorsement of an international armed response to the Houthi threat. The American-sponsored resolution noted that UN members can legitimately "defend their vessels from attack, including those that undermine navigational rights and freedoms." 

The vote was not unanimous, however. Russia and China, which have opposed the idea of a U.S.-led intervention and have not contributed to naval escorts in the area, both abstained.