A cargo ship carrying around 21,000t of fertiliser sunk in the Red Sea on Saturday. The ship had been taking on water after it was struck by a ballistic missile last month.

The Rubymar was a Belize-flagged, UK-owned bulk carrier and was transporting ammonium phosphate sulphate fertiliser.

US military said that the sunken ship’s cargo now poses an environmental risk in the Red Sea.

“As the ship sinks, it also presents a subsurface impact risk to other ships transiting the busy shipping lanes of the waterway,” it stated.

The ship had been due to land at port in Bulgaria. It is the first ship to sink amid hostilities in the Red Sea.

Trade route

The Red Sea is a crucial international trade route and it is connected to the Mediterranean Sea by the Suez Canal.

Since November 2023, escalating attacks on ships in the Red Sea have been compounding disruptions in the Black Sea caused by the war in Ukraine and in the Panama Canal due to climate-induced droughts, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said.

“In both the Suez and Panama canals, transits are down by more than 40% compared to their peaks.

“Most of the decline in the Suez Canal occurred over the last two months, while transits through the Panama Canal have been decreasing over the last two years,” it said in an assessment last month.

In 2023, it said that approximately 22% of global seaborne container trade passed through the canal, carrying goods including natural gas, oil, cars, raw materials and many manufactured products and industry components to and from the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

“Given the risk of attack in the Red Sea, many ships are now avoiding the canal, opting for a longer route around Africa. By the first half of February 2024, 586 container vessels had been rerouted, while container tonnage crossing the canal fell by 82%,” it said.