The U.S. and a dozen other countries are threatening “consequences” for a recent spate of attacks on commercial ships that are increasing the costs of global trade.

In Jan. 3 statement the U.S., joined by Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, noted that the Houthi militant group (which is based in Yemen and supported by Iran) has recently escalated its attacks on commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea with missiles, drones, small boats, and attempted hijackings. The statement pointed out that nearly 15 percent of global seaborne trade passes through the Red Sea (an important approach to the Suez Canal), including eight percent of global grain trade, 12 percent of seaborne-traded oil, and eight percent of the world’s liquefied natural gas trade.

In response to the attacks, the statement noted, international shipping companies are suspending voyages through the Red Sea and rerouting their vessels around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, “adding significant cost and weeks of delay to the delivery of goods, and ultimately jeopardizing the movement of critical food, fuel, and humanitarian assistance throughout the world.” A Reuters article reported that rates for shipping goods from Asia to northern Europe have more than doubled and that freight rates to North America “also are moving higher,” although a White House official said the U.S. has yet to see any impact on supply chains, inflation, and other domestic concerns.

The statement warned that “the Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences” of further attacks, which may involve “collective action.” In a White House press conference, Biden administration officials noted that the U.S. has increased its military presence in both the Red Sea and the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where it is actively countering Houthi attacks on civilian ships but also provides the ability to engage in “a wide range” of other operations.

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