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US Navy warship escorting Maersk ship

The guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon, left, escorts a merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden, March 1, 2019, during Lucky Mariner 19. (U.S. Navy photo by Logan C. Kellums)

Pentagon To Launch ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ To Reopen Red Sea Passage

John Konrad
Total Views: 104141
December 16, 2023

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) There is still a lot of speculation but progress seems likely on reopening the Red Sea to shipping. The Drive is reporting that next week, on his trip to the Middle East, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expected to reveal a ship protection initiative to protect ships from Houthi attacks, as disclosed by a U.S. military spokesperson to The War Zone. This announcement coincides with today’s news that the U.S. Navy intercepted 14 drones dispatched by the Houthis from Yemen in the early hours of Saturday.

gCaptain has verified with a prominent shipowner, whose vessels are currently on temporary hold outside the Red Sea following the attack by Houthis on a Maersk ship Thursday, that they have been engaged in talks with the US Department of Defense regarding a prospective initiative, tentatively titled Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG).

This would be a sharp turn from a White House statement on Friday saying that Maersk on their own must “weigh the balance of risk and benefit of the transit of their ships all around the world.”

A military official disclosed to gCaptain that deliberations were underway regarding the provision of US Navy escorts to US-flagged ships transiting the Red Sea. Notably, most vessels navigating the Red Sea are registered under flags of convenience which the US Navy is not obligated to defend. Despite this, the proposed priority escort plan for US-flagged ships, including the Maersk Kensington, which carries both US military and civilian cargo, has not yet achieved consensus among stakeholders. Consequently, the decision to provide naval protection to ships of all flags under Operation Prosperity Guardian is more likely.

It is unknown why the US-flagged segment of the Maersk fleet is currently pausing with the rest of the fleet considering that US-flagged ships are guaranteed US Navy protection. A few experts familiar with Pentagon operations are speculating whether Maersk’s decision to halt its operations, including US-flagged ships carrying US Military cargo, is a strategic move to pressure the US Military into providing all their ships with protection at US taxpayer expense. The motivation could be to reduce insurance costs and potentially boost freight rates, rather than due to critical security worries. If this hypothesis holds true, Maersk will likely recommence its Red Sea voyages once the US authorities recognize OPG, possibly as early as Monday. If security issues are indeed the main reason for the halt, then it’s likely that ships will begin rerouting around Africa until Operational Prosperity Guardian is fully implemented, which will take time. However, it’s important to note that this hypothesis has not been officially confirmed.

Relations between Maersk and the US Navy have been mixed since the company backed away from US Military tanker contracts in September.

Austin, who will be visiting the region early next week – including a visit aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ford – with Joint Chiefs Chairman General Brown, will announce the details of Operation Prosperity Guardian, which will be similar to the existing Task Force 153, an official told The Drive. That’s an international effort focusing “on international maritime security and capacity building efforts in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb and Gulf of Aden.”

Neither The Drive nor gCaptain sources could say how many navies besides the US will be involved in Operation Prosperity Guardian, when it will start, or exactly what missions they will perform beyond protecting ships in the Red Sea against Houthi threats.

Subscribe to gCaptain’s Twitter feed for updates when we receive confirmation on Operation Prosperity Guardian from US officials.

Also read: EU Shipping And US Naval Leaders Are Estranged Despite NATO Budget Boost by Captain John Konrad

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