Join our crew and become one of the 105,957 members that receive our newsletter.

Is Maritime Media Putting Ships At Risk In The Red Sea?

LinkedIn Post by Richard Meade Editor in Chief, Lloyd's List

Is Maritime Media Putting Ships At Risk In The Red Sea?

John Konrad
Total Views: 6342
December 24, 2023

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain OpEd) LloydsList is a competitor of my publication gCaptain. We believe in shipping media working together for the greater good of our industry, the safety of the seas, and the growth and prosperity of our industry. We avoid direct conflict. We do not lob missiles or drones or shells across the pond lightly but it is my opinion, as an experienced seafarer myself, that the most recent post by Lloyds List editor Richard Meade is dangerous and puts mariners at risk.

This is important because Lloyds List is very influential among ship owners and the insurance market-based in London. Operation Prosperity Guardian transcends any maritime security paradigm the industry has faced in decades. The Red Sea is a kinetic and rapidly evolving combat zone, brimming with explosive military action. The paramount importance of accurately comprehending and communicating its deadly stakes cannot be overstated. Journalists bear a crucial responsibility: their portrayal of this mission’s effectiveness and boundaries holds immense sway. Any misrepresentation could inadvertently lead influential stakeholders — such as ship owners, insurers, and charterers — into the perilous territory of unwarranted risks. This operation is not just about safeguarding ships; it’s a high-stakes endeavor where understanding the true nature of its lethality is vital for all involved.

For decades, the relative safety of the seas rendered the naval expertise of shipping journalists less critical. Seafarers navigated with minimal threat, and in times of peril, such as the peak of Somali piracy, robust naval cooperation and ample resources efficiently countered these dangers. However, the current landscape has shifted dramatically. Naval forces, now constrained by budget cuts, face a rapidly expanding web of geopolitical risks that span the globe. They are distracted and stretched thin by extreme and consequential threats in the Black and South China Seas. Military commanders are on edge. This new reality means that the naval capacity to manage maritime threats is no longer as assured as it once was, once small threats like the Houthis, threaten to escalate into major conflict. This has made the role of accurate and expert shipping journalism more crucial than ever.

I do not hold Lloyd’s List or its Editor-in-Chief, Richard Meade, accountable for underestimating the current threats and deadly challenges faced by today’s combat commanders, or for the inadvertent slips in his holiday message. My lack of blame stems from recognizing the rapid pace at which these concerns have escalated, measured in months rather than years. The purpose of this editorial is not to assign fault but to raise awareness among my fellow journalists. It is crucial to understand the significant and widening divide between the United States-dominated naval community and the European Union-dominated shipping networks. This growing gap underscores the need for more expert and informed journalism in both arenas to understand this rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape.

“The promise of frigates converging on the southern stretches of the Bab el Mandeb strait is a Christmas wish come true for the shipping industry,” said Meade in a recent LinkedIn post. “There has rightly been near-universal applause for the US-led ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ (OPG) coalition.”

The promise of frigates converging on the southern stretches of the Bab el Mandeb strait is a Christmas wish come true for the shipping industry and there has rightly been near-universal applause for the US-led ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ coalition.
But this is not going to be a quick fix.
Right now the Prosperity Guardians have just four ships to defend $1trn worth of goods and 12% of global trade. That fleet will grow and its rules of engagement will no doubt become clear over the coming days, but until shipowners can see tangible evidence that the protection on offer is sufficient to stop ships sinking and crew being killed, there is an understandable reluctance to re-route tonnage.
Those containerships that had halted in the wake of recent attacks have now re-joined the queue to exit the Suez. The fact that carriers are now paying a second canal toll, in addition to the 20 days additional sailing and a likely additional fuel bill of between $1.5m and $2m, all indicates that the lines are now preparing for the disruption to last several weeks, at the very least.
The majority of container lines are now out of the Red Sea until next year and will only return once the risk has been sufficiently reduced.
But there are still hundreds of vessels transiting the Houthi hotspot and the establishment of a naval corridor comes with its own set of risks.
The Houthis fought a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen from 2015 until a ceasefire last year. They have found new infamy in their latest guise as Red Sea pirates.
The Shia group wants to be thought of as Yemen’s government and will not want to give up its newfound status easily. There is concern that the naval taskforce will only escalate attempts to disrupt trade by other means.
Repelling missiles and drones is well within the wheelhouse of the navies heading to the fight. Stopping explosives-laden remote-controlled boats could prove more tricky to stamp out.
As ever, it is the humble seafarer that is left on the frontline of such risk calculations and while the rest of us prepare for a few days of festive relaxation, thousands of crew will once again be sailing this Christmas on high alert.
If there are any Christmas wishes left, that is where they should be directed.

Richard Meade Editor in Chief, Lloyd’s List via LinkedIn

Meade admits it will take time to build the coalition, which is true, but the fact it has received “universal applause” to date is patently false. While it’s true the shipping elite ensconced in London do appear to be pleased with OPG the mariners themselves are deeply frustrated and worried as are important coalition members.

The current state of the coalition, under the micro-management of Jake Sullivan in a White House that closed its Maritime desk the day Biden took office, is highly troublesome while the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) under Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg (MARAD is responsible for managing the collaboration between the Navy and commercial shipping industry) has been silent. In fact, despite new threats emerging weekly – like the drone attack on India yesterday – they have zero active security alerts posted and their active advisory for the Red Sea contains a scant 2,286 words. This is an enormous oversight yet a search for MARAD at Lloyds List (and competitors like Journal of Commerce) reveals little critical coverage of this crucially important department.

Lloyds List has, to their credit, championed the safety of seafarers but imagine this: a week passes, and the leader of the coalition’s own flagged vessels, laden with hazardous military cargo, remain unprotected within Houthi missile range. Where does the responsibility lie? It’s not just about the lack of defense for our seafarers but also the glaring oversight in coalition management.

This is not a hypothetical question. US-flagged ships operated by European shipowners were left stranded within Houthi missile range.

Industry media must report on these issues or else pressure won’t be applied to the politicians blundering this operation. Lloyds List knows the importance and impact of honest reporting. Their own Michelle Wiese Bockmann has received both threats from nefarious actors and a well-deserved award as shipping’s Feature Journalist of the Year for her important work uncovering the dark fleet of ships illicitly transporting Russian oil. Her reporting has had a real impact on regulations and enforcement.

But for Meade to say there has been “near-universal applause” for OPG as ships continue to get hit in the Red Sea and the war creeps out to the periphery with a chemical tanker getting hit just outside India’s EEZ yesterday, shows a lack of understanding of the challenges OPG military leaders – who are doing excellent work but are caught between the Houthis and a micro-management from DC – face.

With only two coalition members accepting OPG command and providing warships (UK & Greece), how can it possibly be said that OPG is receiving near-universal applause? And let’s not overlook the significant exclusion of Australia, a key player in the AUKUS alliance – a move that could potentially weaken our strategic positioning.

And it is not just American publications like gCaptain, Freightwaves and What’s Going On In Shipping that are sounding the alarm regarding OPG failures. London-based Reuters’ articles titled Shipping Industry in the Dark Over Red Sea Naval Coalition and US and Allies Face Tough Choices Amid Growing Red Sea Crisis express serious concerns too.

Shipping’s elite may be applauding the US Navy’s efforts but they are not military experts. The military experts – admirals in allied navies – are voting with their feet with several of the operation members – which only contain a fraction of the 34 CF153 navies already working on securing the regionrefusing American operational command and several key allies like Canada only supplying a handful of staff officers instead of much-needed warships.

Richard is correct in saying “this is not going to be a quick fix,” – I agree that given time the US operation can improve and expand – but a big part of the problem is that the United States Navy – and myriad of naval experts throughout American national security think tanks and war colleges – do not understand the shipping industry and vise-versa. It is difficult to improve and expand when you don’t have the information to understand why the operation is falling apart. It is our jobs as communicators to help bridge that gap or, at the very least, not expand it.

The Influence of US Navy Sea Power on recent history

This brings me to a critical point: if the US Navy is receiving “universal applause” then how does Meade explain the conspicuous absence of any US Navy leaders from the ‘100 Most Influential People in Shipping‘ Lloyds list published this month.

The fact is the US Navy, is a linchpin in numerous critical operations to shipping. This year alone, the US Navy has been integral in NATO’s Black Sea endeavors under an American NATO commander, pivotal sealift operations supporting Ukraine, safeguarding maritime routes to Israel, and ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Moreover, the Secretary of the Navy’s proactive engagement with the commercial sector, highlighted in his recent Harvard speech on international Maritime Statecraft, underscores their significance. Yet, despite these undeniable contributions, the complete omission of US Navy leaders from such a prestigious list prompts a critical reassessment of what constitutes ‘influence’ in maritime affairs. It raises the question: Is Lloyd’s List out of touch with the realities of military-shipping cooperation, or does their criteria for influence need reevaluation? This oversight is especially conspicuous given the Navy’s pivotal role in so many critical operations this year, which should have merited recognition in Lloyd’s List’s rankings, event schedules, and gala awards.

Could part of the blame for European nations not accepting US Naval command of OPG be, at least in part, due to the lack of appreciation of their work by European shipping journalists, event organizers, and award judges?

Let me ask you this Richard. Lloyds List – and its former parent Informa (now owned by PE firm)- hosts a number of shipping industry events. Some, in the UK, do invite Royal Navy officers but when was the last time you met a US Navy officer at any of your events? If European shipping is going to increasingly rely on US Navy leadership and protection as geopolitical security unravels, then when is Lloyds List – along with the CEOs of European shipping companies – going to visit Washington DC and meet with Secretaries Carlos Del Toro and Pete Buttigieg? Even if nothing is accomplished at first, just the notice of these meetings in publications like Lloyds List would send seafarers a strong message that the two groups – naval and shipping – are operating from the same page.

The US Navy has been the backbone of many operations this year, the majority of which have been to protect seafarers of all nations, often at the expense of American mariners. Yet their leaders’ efforts seem undervalued by your organization and other European maritime media heavyweights like Tradewinds, S&P and Seatrade who fail to even interview them, much less award them with recognition. Why are smaller EU publications without international travel budgets to visit America or the backing of enormous multi-national corporations – publications like The Loadstar and Splash 24/7 – doing better job reporting on the crossroads of naval and maritime security than shipping media heavyweights.

Navy Sailors Deserve Recognition Too

Is time we recognize and learn from those at the forefront? And not just American Admirals but naval coalition leaders. Meade goes to great lengths to say “it is the humble seafarer that is left on the frontline of such risk calculations,” – and as a seafarer myself I appreciate that recognition – but mariners are not alone in sharing the risk. The brave American, British and Greek servicemen and women working on the decks of OPG warships under direct fire today are in grave danger too. Why is the importance of their safety not recognized in this Christmas message?

Naval Experts are needed

If shipping industry media aims to report on the coalition’s ‘great work,’ then it’s high time to employ journalists who don’t just skim the surface but publications like Lloyds List and JOC must hire those – at least a few – who deeply understand naval operations. Only then can we hope to have a narrative that truly reflects the complexities and crucial decisions during a time of escalating geopolitical insecurity.

Only then can we say a military operation receives ” near-universal applause.”

This is important because Richard is correct, it’s the safety of those on the decks of ships that’s paramount. The problem is the dozens of seafarers and navy sailors the gCaptain has interviewed do not have “near-universal applause” for the current state of Operation Prosperity Guardian.

The majority of seafarers in the Red Sea right now do not feel like the missiles lobbed at them yesterday signify success. If Meade is correct – and the majority of ‘Top 100 shipping influencers’ – think otherwise then it’s our duty as journalists to inform them of the truth… before they read rose-tinted LinkedIn posts and reduce insurance rates or order more ships into range of Houthi missiles.

Unlock Exclusive Insights Today!

Join the gCaptain Club for curated content, insider opinions, and vibrant community discussions.

Sign Up
Back to Main
polygon icon polygon icon

Why Join the gCaptain Club?

Access exclusive insights, engage in vibrant discussions, and gain perspectives from our CEO.

Sign Up


Maritime and offshore news trusted by our 105,957 members delivered daily straight to your inbox.

Join Our Crew

Join the 105,957 members that receive our newsletter.