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Shell halts Red Sea shipments over attack fears: report

British oil major has halted transit through the Red Sea, a Wall Street Journal report said
— Washington (AFP)

British oil giant Shell has paused transit through the key Red Sea shipping route indefinitely, over fears of escalating tensions involving Yemen's Huthi rebels, according to a media report Tuesday.

The worries of escalation grew after United States and United Kingdom strikes on scores of sites in rebel-held Yemen Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported, in retaliation over Huthi attacks in the Red Sea which have disrupted shipping.

The Huthis have been targeting what they deemed Israeli-linked vessels. But after Friday's strikes, they declared US and British interests "legitimate targets."

On Sunday, US forces shot down a Huthi cruise missile targeting an American destroyer, and on Monday a US-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman was hit by another Huthi missile.

Shell decided to suspend transit last week, considering worries that a successful attack could cause a major spill and threaten the safety of ship crew, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The company declined to comment on the matter when contacted by AFP.

The Journal also reported that in December, a tanker chartered by Shell was targeted by a drone in the Red Sea, and harassed by Huthi boats.

The oil major's decision comes after Britain's BP said in December that it would suspend transit of oil through the Red Sea.

At the start of the month, shipping giant Maersk also noted it would divert vessels around Africa instead of using the Red Sea and Suez Canal for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Qatar's prime minister said that liquefied natural gas shipments would be affected by tensions in the area, warning that strikes on Yemen risk worsening the crisis.

About 12 percent of global trade normally passes through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, the Red Sea's entrance between southwest Yemen and Djibouti. But the rebel attacks have caused much shipping to be diverted thousands of miles (kilometers) around Africa.