Sea denial by Houthis poses major threat to free trade, says Royal Navy chief | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Sea denial by Houthis poses major threat to free trade, says Royal Navy chief

ByRahul Singh
Feb 23, 2024 05:42 PM IST

The Houthi rebels have been targeting commercial shipping in and around the Red Sea with missiles and drones after the Israel-Hamas conflict began on October 7, 2023

New Delhi: The Red Sea area, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels are attacking commercial shipping, presents some significant challenges in the maritime domain, and the developments there pose a major threat to free economic trade around the world, Admiral Ben Key, head of the UK’s Royal Navy, said on Friday.

Admiral Ben Key, head of the UK’s Royal Navy (HT Photo/Sourced)
Admiral Ben Key, head of the UK’s Royal Navy (HT Photo/Sourced)

“It is actually a form of sea denial against people who have every right to use the high seas for the peaceful purpose of trade and mutual benefit between nations, which is well established within the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea). And that is what they are threatening,” he said in an interview on the margins of the Raisina Dialogue 2024.

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The Houthi rebels have been targeting commercial shipping in and around the Red Sea with missiles and drones after the Israel-Hamas conflict began on October 7, 2023. Several shipping companies have suspended their operations in the Red Sea following the attacks, which have forced mariners to change course and take longer routes around the southern tip of Africa.

What the Houthis are doing has nothing to do with the Israeli-Hamas conflict, despite what they claim, and it is nothing but a form of sea denial, Key said.

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“And that is where navies like ourselves and the Indian Navy that will have a responsibility to step in to provide security for commercial shipping, the lawful use of the sea to provide a sort of reassurance and protective net around to ensure that the Houthis can’t achieve what they are setting out to do. I welcome the fact that the Indian Navy is now putting out a really significant and highly capable task group into the region,” he said.

The Indian Navy has responded to distress calls made by merchant ships hit by missiles and drones launched by the Houthi rebels in the region and also thwarted several piracy attempts in and around the Arabian Sea in the last few months.

On February 21, Union defence minister Rajnath Singh said recent developments in the western Indian Ocean, where merchant vessels have faced a barrage of drone attacks and hijacking attempts, presented some “extremely pressing challenges” in the maritime domain.

“We are alive to the dangers lurking in shadows,” he had then said, speaking at the opening ceremony of the multi-nation Milan naval exercise in Visakhapatnam.

The Indian Navy has stepped up surveillance in the region substantially and deployed around 10 task groups consisting of several warships in the face of rising threats in the area, including the recent attacks on India-bound merchant vessels and the resurgence of piracy.

Key said that global navies are working alongside each other in the region to ensure people can operate safely and securely in the Red Sea area.

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“HMS Diamond (earlier deployed in the Rea Sea) has fired more surface-to-air missiles than any British warship since the Falklands War, which demonstrates the level of threat that the Houthis are posing. That threat is indiscriminate. They claim it is because of the Gaza situation, but just the way they are firing their drones and missiles...that is having an impact on anybody who wants to move through the Red Sea,” he said.

“That is why we will encourage them to stop (these attacks) and we hope that a regional solution can be found very soon.”

Responding to a question on the challenges in the wider Indian Ocean region, he said, “There is potential for greater instability in the region than seen earlier. There is a real determination among the navies of the region, and for those of us who have interests there, to make a contribution to ensuring that the seas are safe and secure for those who wish to conduct local business.”

The challenges in the distant seas include China’s carefully calculated power play for influence, defending the rules-based international order, and the Arabian Sea emerging as a new front with Red Sea tensions escalating and the resurgence of piracy, as reported by HT earlier.

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