Freedom of navigation in the Red Sea region

Latest developments

Latest update regarding the KVNR call to action:

February 19, 2024 | Following growing attacks on commercial shipping, the EU has officially launched the EU’s defensive maritime security operation in the Red Sea.

 

Click here for the most recent developments

RodeZee
KVNR - Cathelijne Bouwkamp - Maritime Security & International Law _web
Contact

 

Cathelijne Bouwkamp
Maritime law and Security

+31 10 2176 279
+31 6 4168 5465
bouwkamp@kvnr.nl

KVNR - Nathan Habers - Public Relations, Crisisco├Ârdinatie en Geopolitiek - web
Press inquiries

 

Nathan Habers
Public Relations


+31 10 2176 264
habers@kvnr.nl

Dutch shipowners are calling for protection

Because the Red Sea is a very important shipping route for international trade, the impact of these attacks is very high. As such, they constitute an unacceptable violation of the right of free passage (Mare Liberum), as enshrined in part seven of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). 

The Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR) is keen to see the safest possible passage achieved as soon as possible. Therefore, the KVNR requests the Dutch cabinet to commit to:

  • Protection against aerial attacks: rapid structural measures under Operation Prosperity Guardian or under European deployment, for example by setting up supported Red Sea transits, with a central communication point for ships sailing there being a key focus;
  • Protection against maritime attacks: allowing the deployment of VPDs to enhance the protection effect of OPG, minimising the risk of attack from boats or drones;
  • a European deployment through mission ATALANTA, mission EMASOH or the Combined Maritime Forces.

The KVNR has written to the Dutch cabinet informing them of these requests.

The situation in the Red Sea region

Since the hijacking of the GALAXY LEADER by Houthi rebels on 19 November 2023, dozens of merchant ships have been attacked in the southern Red Sea region. These include attacks by drones and missiles as well as direct attacks by rebels in pursuing skiffs. These attacks represent threats from the air and from the sea and, therefore, pose a major risk to the safety of ships and their crews.

Operation Prosperity Guardian provides defensive protection
The Netherlands is participating in Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) to provide protection for ships in the Red Sea. A major attack that took place on 10 January 2024 demonstrated that the countries currently participating in OPG can repel offensives effectively. This includes the adequate repulsion of airborne attacks. The defensive nature of OPG currently reduces the risks to ships in the region. In addition, the European Commission is currently looking for ways to provide protection for ships transiting the Red Sea. It is expected that any European deployment could start in the second half of February 2024.

Participation in Operation Poseidon Archer increases risk for Dutch ships
Besides participating in OPG, the Netherlands and Denmark are the only EU member states taking part in Operation Poseidon Archer. This has an offensive nature in order to eliminate the source of air attacks on international shipping. Operation Poseidon Archer involves a very limited coalition of only a few countries; this seems to have increased the risk to all Dutch ships* being targeted by Houthi attacks. For Dutch shipowners, it is important that the Houthi’s potential focus on ships with Dutch connections is minimised as soon as possible, for example by expanding the coalition of Operation Poseidon Archer.

Armed security on board
The southernmost part of the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the entire Gulf of Aden have been designated under the Bill for the Protection of the Merchant Navy (WtBK) permissible for the deployment of private armed security guards on board Dutch-flagged ships. Based on the structure of the WtBK, private security guards may only be deployed if this is also permitted for teams of armed soldiers, also known as the Vessel Protection Detachment (VPD).

The Dutch government currently advises against passage through the Red Sea, and the Ministry of Defence does not currently consider it responsible to deploy VPDs in the Red Sea region. This means that it is currently not possible to deploy private security guards on Dutch-flagged ships. It is partly for this reason that no Dutch-flagged ships are sailing through the Red Sea.

*The term ‘all Dutch ships’ is meant not only to refer to those ships sailing under Dutch flag but also those under Dutch control but with a foreign flag. The size of the fleet under Dutch control consists of around 2,600 ships, of which 1,100 are sailing under the Dutch flag (4th position within the EEA). 

Recent developments for the dutch the Dutch maritime industry

Date Occurrence
19 february 2024

Following growing attacks on commercial shipping, the EU has officially launched the EU’s defensive maritime security operation in the Red Sea.

19 February 2024 Shipping industry calls for release of Galaxy Leader crew still held captive
3 February 2024 Besides the Netherlands, EU member state Denmark now also supports Operation Poseidon Archer.
25 January 2024 Today, the EU has announced Operation ASPIDES ('shields' in Greek). The Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) will coordinate the operation. Starting date is tentatively set for 19 February.
12 January 2024 The United States and the United Kingdom launch a major attack on Houthi targets in Yemen. The Netherlands is the only EU members state to participate in Operation Poseidon Archer.
10 January 2024

The United States and the UK repel the largest Houthi attack in the Red Sea to date.

19 December 2023

The United States, the European Union, NATO and 44 allies condemn the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

19 November 2023 Houthi rebels land by helicopter on the sea vessel Galaxy Leader to hijack the ship due to an alleged 'Israeli link' and to take the crew hostage

The importance of freedom of navigation in the Red Sea region

As much as 90 per cent of all goods are transported by sea; from raw materials and semi-finished goods to ready-made consumer products. The percentage of world trade that depends on transit through the Egyptian Suez Canal is 10-15 per cent. When it comes to the transport of containers and crude oil, this percentage increases to as much as 30 per cent.

The Dutch shipping industry is active worldwide in various market segments such as bulk goods (for example wheat, sand, wood), tankers, sea tugs and offshore work vessels, with the vast majority of the fleet operating in European waters. Dutch shipowners are not represented in the intercontinental transport of containers and crude oil.

Ships from Dutch shipowners regularly sail through the Suez Canal, and therefore also through the Red Sea region. In ‘normal’ times this involves the passage of an average of one to two ships per day. This not only accounts for ships that transport goods, but also ships working on location, such as workboats and tugboats.

Due to the current situation in the Red Sea region, a detour via the Cape of Good Hope is a realistic option. However, this route involves more sailing days due to the extra nautical miles. How many days that is depends on, among other things, the type of cargo, the ship and the weather conditions. The extra costs for fuel, crew, supplies, maintenance and insurance are an important factor in this. This can vary from several hundred thousand to over a million dollars. It is important for the shipowner to be able to pass these costs on to the customer, otherwise this will damage the financial position of the shipping company. This is not possible for every shipping company. On the other hand, the costs for security guards and the costs of passing through the Suez Canal, for example, will be eliminated. The longer voyage not only affects the cost of the voyage, but also ensures that the ship can carry out fewer jobs in the same time. If this situation takes a longer period of time, it may result in more vessels being needed to serve the international market.

Frequently asked questions

Since November 2023, the KVNR has received many questions about the situation in the Red Sea and the consequences for (Dutch) shipping. Below we have listed the most frequently asked questions, naturally provided with answers.

  • What are the additional costs of the detour?

    First and foremost, it is good that there is at least an alternative route. The route around the Cape of Good Hope is six to nine thousand kilometres longer, which equates to ten to fifteen days of additional sailing time.

    The distance can vary enormously because it is also dependent on the locations of departure and arrival ports. The detour results in higher fuel costs and the crew must be paid extra too. At the same time, other costs are eliminated, such as tolls for a Suez Canal passage and costs for a security team on board.

    The exact additional costs differ per sea voyage and partly depend on the type of ship, type of cargo, degree of loading of the ship, weather conditions and sailing route. Moreover, if the situation continues for a longer period of time, sailing around the Cape also means that a ship can make fewer sea voyages per year. It is not yet possible to say what (long-term) consequences this will have for world trade.

  • How are ships being protected?

    The Netherlands is taking part in Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) to provide protection to seagoing vessels in the Red Sea. The European Commission is also currently looking to provide protection for ships transiting the Red Sea. It is expected that any European deployment could start from the second half of February 2024.

    A major attack on 10 January 2024 demonstrated that the countries currently participating in OPG can effectively repel offensives. Airborne attacks were also adequately intercepted. The defensive nature of OPG currently limits the risk to ships in that region.

    In addition to participating in OPG, the Netherlands is the only EU member state to participate in Operation Poseidon Archer, which is an offensive operation being carried out in order to eliminate the source of air strikes on international shipping. Operation Poseidon Archer involves a very limited coalition of only six countries. As a result, the risk for all Dutch ships to become targets of Houthi attacks seems to have increased.

    The southernmost part of the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the entire Gulf of Aden have been designated under the Bill for the Protection of the Merchant Navy (WtBK) permissible for the deployment of private armed security guards on board Dutch-flagged ships. Based on the structure of the WtBK, private security guards may only be deployed if this is also permitted for teams of armed soldiers, also known as the Vessel Protection Detachment (VPD).

    The Dutch government currently advises against passage of ships through the Red Sea. And the Ministry of Defence does not currently consider it responsible to deploy VPDs in the Red Sea area. As such, it is currently not possible to deploy private security guards on Dutch-flagged ships.

  • What is the KVNR’s position?

    The Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR) is keen to see the safest possible passage achieved as soon as possible. Therefore, the KVNR requests the Dutch cabinet to commit to:

    • Protection against aerial attacks: Rapid structural measures under Operation Prosperity Guardian or under European deployment, for example by setting up supported Red Sea transits, with a central communication point for ships sailing there being a key focus;
    • Protection against maritime attacks: Allowing the deployment of VPDs to enhance the protection effect of OPG, minimising the risk of attack from boats or drones;
    • A European deployment through mission ATALANTA, mission EMASOH or the Combined Maritime Forces.
  • Are KVNR member ships still sailing through the Red Sea region?

    There is no ban on sailing through the area; this is not legally possible.

    It is a business decision of the shipping company in question, whether or not in consultation with (supply chain) partners, to decide whether or not to sail through the area.

    The Suez Canal is much further north than the Red Sea area where the Houthi attacks took place. It is therefore possible to sail through the Suez Canal without entering the aforementioned Red Sea region.

  • Have any ship sailing with the Dutch flag been attacked?

    Fortunately not. See also the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) list.