Chinese liner giant Cosco Shipping Lines has suspended visits to Israeli ports, according to Israeli media reports.

The state-owned carrier made the move in the wake of rising Red Sea tensions following attacks on vessels by Houthi militants, according to news outlet Globes.

The reports did not give any details and Cosco does not appear to have made any formal statement.

If confirmed, however, the move by the fourth-largest liner operator would be a significant development which would affect other liner operators.

That includes Israeli shipping line Zim which cooperates with Cosco and would have to operate more services, the reports said.

While Cosco has rerouted many vessels around the around the Cape of Good Hope, the company has made a number of Red Sea transits without any incident.

These include the 14,568-teu Cosco Shipping Kilimanjaro (built 2017) which passed through the channel last week.

Low risk?

Israeli media deem the chances of the Houthis firing on Cosco ships are low given China’s strong links with Iran, the patron of Houthi protagonist attacks on merchant vessels.

But the move would bring Cosco closer into line with the policy of its Hong Kong-based sister company Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL).

OOCL, which ultimately belongs to China Cosco Shipping, announced it was suspending all business in Israel prior to Christmas for “operational issues”.

OOCL, one of the world’s biggest integrated container transportation and logistics companies, is one of several organisations that saw one of its ships attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

On 3 December, the OOCL-chartered, 4,253-teu boxship Number 9 (built 2007) was hit by a drone launched by the Houthis.

The Houthi regime, which controls large swathes of Yemen, started attacking commercial vessels in November to put pressure on Israel in its war with Hamas in Gaza.

The Houthis claim to be targeting only vessels they believe to be controlled by Israeli interests or calling at Israeli ports.

But several attacks on liner operators have led most of the top ten liner operators to pause transits through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

OOCL was one of the first lines — if not the first — to state publicly that it will no longer handle cargo bound to or from Israel, opening up a new aspect to the rising tension in the region.

OOCL’s parent group is Orient Overseas (International) Limited (OOIL), which is controlled by China’s Cosco group.