People walk on the beach as a container ship crosses the Gulf of Suez towards the Red Sea before entering the Suez Canal, in El Ain El Sokhna in Suez, east of Cairo, Egypt April 24, 2017. Image Credit: Reuters

Doha: Qatar appears to have paused sending liquefied natural gas tankers through the Bab El Mandeb Strait after US-led airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen raised risks in the vital waterway.

At least five liquefied natural gas vessels operated by Qatar that were heading toward the passage at the southern end of the Red Sea have been halted since Friday, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Three tankers have paused off the coast of Oman, one is in the Red Sea and the other is in the Mediterranean Sea near the Suez Canal.

The Combined Military Forces "- encompassing both the US and UK navies "- advised merchant shipping to stay away from the danger zone in the southern Red Sea following the airstrikes on the militant group. At least three major oil tanker operators said they would avoid the area.


The Houthis haven't attacked any vessels carrying gas since they started harrying ships in mid-November, but Qatar's reluctance to transit the passage highlights the sharp increase in risks following the US-led strikes. 

Qatar is the biggest supplier of LNG to Europe after the US and would typically send exports via the waterway, given the alternative is the much longer route around the southern tip of Africa. It accounted for around 13 per cent of Western European consumption last year.

The increased risks may delay shipments of the heating and power-station fuel to Europe, but it's unlikely to lead to shortages in the near term. The region is well stocked, industrial demand remains subdued and winter has been relatively mild so far. European benchmark gas prices are trading near the lowest level since August.