The Red Sea conflict: A new Suez Canal crisis in the making?

How recent tensions could affect importing from Asia

The recent escalation of conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the resulting actions of the Houthi rebels in Yemen have shaken up the shipping route from Asia to Europe and North America via the Suez Canal. With the attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea near the Strait of Bab al-Mandab, a crucial maritime transit route, importers face new challenges.

A map of the shipping route from Asia to Europe, with the route via the Red Sea conflict in Yemen and Suez Canal in red and the alternative route via the Cape of Good Hope in green.

The importance of the Red Sea, Yemen and the Suez Canal to global trade

The Red Sea is an important artery for global trade, with approximately 12% of the global trade volume and up to 30% of the global container traffic. This strategic waterway connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal. However, recent conflicts have put this vital route at risk, with major consequences for global supply chains.

These consequences of these events are similar to the grounding of the cargo ship “Ever Given” in the Suez Canal in 2021, causing significant disruption to the global supply chain.

Impact of the Red Sea conflict on shipping

The attacks by Houthi rebels have led major container carriers such as MSC, Maersk, CMA CGM, and Hapag-Lloyd to suspend or refocus their services in the Red Sea. This involves bypassing the Red Sea and Suez Canal by sailing past the Cape of Good Hope, which leads to longer transit times (1 to 2 weeks) and higher costs. These diversions can result in significant delays in supply chains and increased transportation costs for importers.

The role of maritime safety

The US and allies are increasing their maritime activities in the region to re-establish safe passage. This includes assembling a multinational task force to maintain security and possibly even taking direct action against the Houthis. It is a complex situation that requires both military and diplomatic solutions and will not be solved overnight.

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Recommendations when importing from China or elsewhere in Asia

When importing from Asia, it is essential to keep a close eye on developments and have alternative plans ready. It may be advisable to consult with logistics partners and freight forwarders on the best strategies to minimize the impact on the supply chain. In any case, take into account longer lead times from Asia, inform your stakeholders and (internal) customers in a timely manner and ensure adjusted stock levels. 


This crisis highlights the importance of flexible and resilient supply chain strategies in times of geopolitical uncertainty. Importers must be prepared for unexpected disruptions and proactively plan to protect their business operations.

Facing challenges in your supply chain?

Contact Westwood for expert advice and support in navigating complex logistics challenges. 

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