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Red Sea Shipping, Information, Communication, Inflation and Terrorism

The situation in the Red Sea poses several legal questions.

Freedom of maritime navigation and shipping transport is secured by international charters and treaties. The restriction of shipping by way of embargo or blockade of ports, maritime straits, shipping lanes and seaways is considered an act of war, when it implicates sovereign states. In any other situation, the obstruction or disruption of public natural or technical infrastructure, networks, utilities, systems, supply chains etc., by way of sabotage or otherwise, is considered standard civil and criminal offence at national and international level. Likewise terrorist acts are standard crimes of the most atrocious.

In the Red Sea and in the sequential Suez Canal, the passage of ships is currently threatened by extremist and terrorist attacks from Yemen. To secure safe passage, the U.S. Navy and allied forces provide fleet carrier groups for the protection of transportation. Still major shipping companies suspend trade via the Red Sea and Suez, switching to the longer and more expensive routes around Africa, for transport predominantly to and from Europe but also other destinations. Consequently, charters and freights appreciate across the international markets of maritime transport. The shipping companies benefit from the extra cost which is paid by cargo shippers, who subsequently pass the cost to consumers via higher prices fuelling inflation.

One factual and legal issue here is the specification of the level of the risk. In the case of the Red Sea, the security and military assessment of the potential risk from the terror attacks, is not yet clear. For the calculation of the risk several qualitative and quantitative factors have to be accounted. The available means of attack, like drones, missiles, motor boats etc. available to the terrorists. The capabilities of weapons for assault and damage against the ships, the crews and the cargoes. The deterrence and defence capabilities of the security forces. The identity of the terrorists, their motivations and objectives, political or economic or both and the possible accomplices. Finally, the implications of sovereign forces in the matter.

Terrorism is asymmetric but not incalculable. The extraordinary extremist feature of terror attacks makes them more profound and pronounced. The communication of terror is the exact technique used in standard terrorist practice to achieve the desired political and economic effects. The general objective is the disruption of law, order and security. This is very dangerous for national and international security and institutions. Even more dangerous is the exploitation or employment of terrorism for profit and the attribution of normality to terrorism for this upends safety, security, order, economic regulation, legislation and constitution. The particular objective of terror groups is the communication of widespread risk of threat and violence and the derivative physical and psychological fear, intimidation, disruption, anxiety, stress, insecurity and uncertainty to civilians, businesses, consumers, institutional authorities, military forces and the general public, for political or economic profit. The risks refer to victims and casualties and to risk, danger and threat against utilities, supplies and infrastructure and other targets, human, technical or economic. The threat of violence is specifically represented by the ostensibly indefinite risk posed by the obscurity of the terror groups, the asymmetric or unlimited means of unaccountable power they portray to possess and the extremist, incomprehensible and inaccurate justifications which they invoke. It is also further cultivated by the complicit dark, unrevealed and undisclosed groups and networks which abet, support, cultivate, provoke or direct them.

The specification of the risk, to any possible degree, is important to shipping companies, to the naval forces in the line of fire and to the maritime trade and transport industry, shipping companies, shippers, insurers and financiers. This is important also to national and international maritime authorities, which are otherwise competent to designate water ways open or closed for technical or security purposes, high risk or war zones.

The specification of the risk is important also to major international carriers and the public media with disproportionate commercial displacement in the respective transportation and communication markets. The obvious moral, legal, corporate and commercial risk here is market manipulation by abuse of right from the perceived entitlement of business concerns to unilaterally or multilaterally, declare a maritime route open or closed to navigation, whether in the course of specification of corporate navigation or safety policy or for other purpose. This risk is compounded for the carriers and the relevant media, when this extraordinary disposition appears to tie with intentional or negligent imposition of private economic conditions in the shipping, commercial, media communication and financial exchanges and the markets (let alone legal, institutional, national or international conditions) and with vested economic, commercial or financial interests. Also, when this is projected with unlawful communication practices (hype is the most common) precipitated across the media on relevant matters.

Record and context also matter. The terrorist attacks against the ships in the Red Sea are alleged to be made in retaliation of the war in Gaza, which however was precipitated by the terror attack of Hamas in Israel and now risks conflagration across the Middle East. This threatens to disrupt supplies of energy and increases in prices, first on transport, then on trade. The war in Gaza follows the war in Ukraine which disrupted supplies of energy with maximum sanctions imposed against Russia (the 2nd largest producer of energy) for Crimea and Ukraine, sabotage and other attacks against shipping lanes. This war followed maximum sanctions imposed against Iran (the 3rd largest producer of energy) for militia interference in Middle East affairs.

The disruption of maritime trade in the Red Sea is contemporary with that in the Panama Canal for alleged climate change factors. It follows the blockade of the Suez Canal by the containership Ever Given and precedes published threats for increase of the oil prices in the commodity exchanges due to disruption of the Hormuz straights. The pattern of the attacks follows that of the pirate attacks from Somalia, however in Yemen is more senior and elaborate. It follows cyber and physical attacks against networks and infrastructure, which in turn followed the disruption of transport due to Covid 19 fears across China port terminals and consequent inflation, compounded by corresponding conditions across U.S. ports and other serious disorders of that period. Covid followed the mass illegal migration (trafficking invasion) without travel or identification documents and the concurrent wave of systematic terror attacks against civilian, cultural and religious targets in Europe in 2015-2016. This followed the broadcasted decapitations of hostages by the ISIS “Beatles” in 2014, the terror attack against Boston Marathon in 2013 and the attack of Al Qaida against the World Trade Center in NY, in between the 1st Gulf war which followed the invasion of Iraq in Kuwait and the 2nd Gulf war and the war in Afghanistan. The chain of violence, cause, conflict, crisis, chaos and war draws long in the record of history.

Presently the industry of risk, fear, speculation, intimidation, oppression, crime and terror and the flagrant violation of law and regulation across territories and markets has grown to become the norm as the most lucrative contemporary commercial and financial business. The financial profits are all but negligible but prudent shipping companies and corporate media, should steer clear from apparent, real or virtual ties with the industry of terror and crime, which has developed over the years under the aforementioned appalling, dangerous, damaging, illegal and criminal conditions.

Private navigation and maritime policies are obviously in the realm of the ship-operators to decide, in compliance with regulations. Nevertheless, the broad designations and predications of security risks privately, individually or in co-operation with other firms and the precipitations of relevant public campaigns in the media on various actual or speculative grounds, are matters of different order, scale and structure. So are the economic, legal, political and security assessments.

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