Vessels at Egypt’s port of Suez are unable to pick-up military escorts for protection through the pirate-prone Gulf of Aden due to the unrest in the country, a senior industry official said on Monday. Ships have been traveling through the Suez Canal, the main passageway for Europe’s crude oil and imported goods, as usual with no reports of delays or cancellations. Operations at the port have slowed, however, as anti-government protests have kept supplies and some staff from reaching the docks. “No ships have been delayed, but there have been no immigration or customs officials to clear security teams for shipments for the past two days,” said a senior coordinator with a shipping firm operating in Suez, who wished not to be named.
“Crew changes for ships have also stopped and some provisions, like food and water, were not reaching the port,” he added. Suez has jumped into the world’s radar as the scene of clashes between government forces and protesters demanding the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for three decades. Half of all vessels that travel through the Suez Canal stop at the port city to re-supply, refuel, change crew and pick-up security escorts, the company official said.
More than 34,000 vessels passed through the canal in 2009, of which nearly 2,700 were oil tankers carrying some 29 million metric tons of oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Ships were now docking at ports in nearby countries, like Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, to obtain military escorts and supplies. The maritime industry has become increasingly reliant on military escorts for protection against Somali pirates when traveling through the Gulf of Aden via the Suez Canal.
Global pirate attacks hit a seven-year high in 2010 and a record number of crew were taken hostage, with Somali pirates accounting for 49 of the 52 ships seized, the International Maritime Bureau watchdog said this month.