Global Shipping Activity Soars Amid Red Sea Disruptions

A full frame of stacks of shipping containers in a shipyard.

Shipping activity, measured in ton miles, is set for its second-highest annual increase on record due to geopolitical disruptions in the Middle East and Europe, reports Clarksons Research, a leading shipbroker unit. The marker, which calculates the volume of cargo transported by the distance it sails, is projected to rise by 5.1% compared to 2023, equating to 3.2 trillion ton miles.

Rerouting Around the Red Sea

This surge is largely due to vessels having to reroute their usual paths thousands of miles around the horn of Africa to avoid the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. These areas have become hotspots for attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on ships, with the intensity of these incidents escalating in recent weeks following the successful sinking of a vessel using a sea drone.

The Environmental and Trade Implications

The extended distances are likely to hinder global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. However, an “encouraging start to the year” in trade volumes is also contributing to the increase in ton miles, indicating that the rise is not solely due to longer journeys, according to Clarkson analyst Trevor Crowe.

Container Shipping Takes the Brunt

The impact of the Red Sea disruption on ton miles has been most acutely felt in container shipping, with approximately 690 ships currently navigating around the Cape of Good Hope. As a result, average seaborne trade hauls are expected to increase by 2.8% this year, compared to a 1.8% rise the previous year.