HILAC Lecture

[HILAC Lecture] The Red Sea crisis: assessing the international legal and maritime security implications

21 March 2024
Robert McLaughlin, Sofia Galani, Timothy Walker, Martin Fink

Since 19 November 2023, the Houthis, a non-state armed group based in Yemen, have carried out over 30 attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Red Sea, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal, is a vital trade route, with an estimated 12% of global trade passing through it each year. In response to the Houthis’ actions, a coalition of states, including the United States and United Kingdom, has carried out air and missile strikes against Houthi targets. This fast-developing situation raises numerous critical questions regarding regional and worldwide maritime security, as well as the relevance and application of international law. For example, are the Houthis’ attacks a novel threat for maritime security, or are there historical precedents? Furthermore, how should the Houthis’ actions, and the military responses, be assessed under international law? In addition, to what extent is the freedom of navigation, a fundamental principle of the international law of the sea, jeopardised by the Houthis’ actions?