Brits could have to wait longer to get their hands on goods including tea, coffee, wine and clothes in the New Year as militant attacks in the Red Sea force shipping companies to make a 4,000 mile diversion around the Cape of Good Hope.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have stepped up assaults on ships on the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in recent days as part of attempts by the pro-Hamas fighters to stop supplies reaching Israel. The strait leads to the Suez Canal, an artery of global trait that handles 19,000 ships a year.
More than 100 container ships have already changed course towards South Africa, shipping company Kuehne and Nagel revealed. This route takes around 17,400miles for vessels going from China to the UK, versus 13,400miles via Suez.
Ikea is among retailers warning of delays and shortages to some products, with a spokesman saying: ‘What we can share for now is that the situation in the Suez Canal will result in delays and may cause availability constraints for certain Ikea products.’
Marco Forgione, director general of the Institute of Export and International Trade, said goods from countries including Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and Australia will be hit by the shipping disruptions, as tankers seek to avoid the Red Sea.
Mr Forgione warned the knock-on effects on consumers would start to be felt with a hit to supplies of items such as meat, clothes, shoes, Australian wine, clothes and electronic goods such as mobile phones.
Simon Heaney, senior manager in container research at maritime consultancy Drewry, said the scale of disruption would depend on how long the situation lasts.
He told MailOnline: ‘Suez is effectively closed to container shipping at the moment but if naval security proves sufficient and transits are resumed then disruption should be fairly minimal.
‘If this prolongs over weeks and months then the potential for delays will escalate. It will deplete retailers’ inventory levels so they may well find that in a few months they have shortages of particular items.
‘Lots of items are brought in by ship so that could be anything. Very high-value items can justify going by air should it be necessary so it will be general lower value items and parts – which in turn could disrupt manufacturing.
‘Christmas isn’t a problem because items are already in the shops. There’s no risk of Christmas being cancelled.
‘And even if the situation persists and ships have to re-reroute by the cape it would increase delivery lines but it may only be by a week. Ships can speed up and use some of the savings from not having to pay the Suez canal toll into paying for more fuel.’
Major shipping companies such as MSC, Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM have already paused container shipments through the Red Sea following a surge in attacks.