Singapore Says It Will Join US-Led Red Sea Operation

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Singapore Says It Will Join US-Led Red Sea Operation

The commitment is consistent with the city-state’s long commitment to norms and rules supporting unimpeded global trade.

Singapore Says It Will Join US-Led Red Sea Operation

The oil tanker “Hero Star” passing through the Straits of Tiran near Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

Credit: Depositphotos

Singapore will participate in the U.S.-led operation to restore the free flow of maritime shipping in the Red Sea, the country’s Defense Ministry announced yesterday.

In a statement, the Ministry said that the Singapore Armed Forces will send personnel to take part in Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multinational operation to counter the recent attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on commercial container ships.

“This is part of efforts to ensure the freedom of navigation in this key global sea line of communication,” it said in the statement.

While Singapore is not deploying any vessels to the 39-nation Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) carrying out the operation, the statement said that it will contribute personnel, including a senior national representative to the CMF; a team from the Singaporean navy “to support info-sharing and engagement outreach with the commercial shipping community”; and a team of planners to help the coalition “formulate operational plans.”

The Red Sea, which lies between the Suez Canal in the north and the Bab al-Mandab Strait in the south, is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, offering access to the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia. Since November 19, there have been numerous attacks on commercial vessels in areas of the Red Sea close to Yemen by Houthi rebels, who say that they are responding to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza by targeting ships linked to Israel or heading into Israeli ports.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said that as of January 7, Houthi militants had launched 20 attacks, including hijack attempts and the firing of missiles and drones, on commercial vessels in the Red Sea. Among them was the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou.

According to Channel News Asia, “around 12 percent of global trade passes through the Red Sea, including as much as 30 percent of container traffic and over $1 trillion worth of goods a year.”

The attacks have prompted some of the world’s largest container-shipping firms to divert vessels to other routes, including the old journey around the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa, despite the considerable costs of doing so. On January 3, Singapore joined the United States and 12 other countries in condemning the Houthi attacks, warning of unspecified consequences if they continue.

“Let our message now be clear: we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews,” said the statement released by the White House. “The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.”

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Ng downplayed the likely impact of the Red Sea disruptions on Singapore. “Based on the current situation, the immediate impact on Singapore is expected to be limited as the majority of our critical supplies, such as food and pharmaceuticals, are delivered via air freight or do not pass through the Red Sea,” he said.

However, the Houthi attacks on international shipping strike at the international norms and rules that allow for the free flow of global trade, to which Singapore has long been committed. As a tiny island state dependent on its trade and financial connections with the wider world, the Lion City has long been sensitively attuned to any developments bearing on global trade. It was similar reasoning that led Singapore to become an observer state on the Arctic Council in 2013.

Even if its contribution to Operation Prosperity Guardian is limited, Singapore’s support for the U.S.-led operation is consistent with its principled support for free and open international trade.