Containers are seen on the Maersk's container ship Maersk Gibraltar at the APM Terminals in the port of Algeciras, Spain January 19, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

German transport company Hapag-Lloyd said it was halting Red Sea container ship traffic until December 18, after the Houthis attacked one of its vessels.

Dubai: Two of the world's largest shipping firms, Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd, said on Friday they were suspending passage through a Red Sea strait vital for global commerce, after Yemeni rebel attacks in the area.

The Houthis say they're targeting shipping to pressure Israel during its two-month-old war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The maritime tensions have added to fears that the Gaza conflict could spread.

"Hapag-Lloyd is interrupting all container ship traffic across the Red Sea until Monday," the company said in a statement sent to AFP.

"We have instructed all Maersk vessels in the area bound to pass through the Bab Al Mandab Strait to pause their journey until further notice," the company said.

The statement came shortly after Danish firm Maersk made a similar announcement.

A US defence official identified it as the Liberia-flagged Al-Jasrah, a 368-metre (1,207-foot) container ship built in 2016.

Maersk said this followed a "near-miss incident involving Maersk Gibraltar yesterday" as well as Friday's attack, in which the rebels struck a Hapag-Lloyd cargo ship in the Red Sea.

"We are aware that something launched from a Houthi-controlled region of Yemen struck this vessel which was damaged, and there was a report of a fire," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity so that he could discuss intelligence matters.

Vessel seized

A Hapag-Lloyd spokesman told AFP: "There has been an attack on one of our ships."

It was en route from the Greek port of Piraeus to Singapore. There were no casualties and the ship is now travelling on towards its destination, he added.

Later in the day during a pro-Palestinian rally in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, the rebels said they attacked two other ships in the area.

The rebels said that, in an earlier attack, the Maersk Gibraltar vessel was "targeted with a drone and the hit was direct". According to a US official, the missile missed.

"Container ships MSC Palatium and MSC Alanya were targeted by two naval missiles as they were heading toward the Israeli entity," Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a broadcast on the rebels' television channel.

Saree said the attack came after the ship's crew "refused to respond to the calls of the Yemeni naval services", and that it was intended as retaliation for the "oppression of the Palestinian people".