Oil and LNG tankers are increasingly avoiding the Red Sea following US and UK strikes against onshore Houthi positions since 11 January. Even Qatar has now stopped sending LNG through the route (MEES, 19 January). The focus has so far primarily been on the impact that vessels diverting to avoid the Red Sea will have on international markets, but what about the Red Sea’s littoral states themselves? Saudi Arabia for instance supplied its Red Sea facilities with more than 450,000 b/d of oil shipped by tanker from its own east coast terminals last year, and as a result is doing everything it can to keep the passage open for its own vessels.

As with other Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia continued sending oil tankers through the Bab al-Mandeb to supply domestic and foreign markets after the Houthis began their campaign against Red Sea shipping in November. Saudi Arabia has appeared confident that its vessels are unlikely to be targeted while it is engaged in peace talks with the Houthis. However, with the Houthis widely expected to escalate their attacks in response to the airstrikes, there is an increased risk of collateral damage for all vessels – indeed a tanker carrying Russian oil was attacked on 12 January, despite Russia’s alliance with Iran. (CONTINUED - 1661 WORDS)