Malaysia has officially banned all Israeli-flagged cargo ships from docking at its ports, citing Israel’s actions in the war in Gaza as the primary reason behind the decision. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim declared the decision on Wednesday. He accused Israel of violating international law and perpetrating a “massacre and brutality against Palestinians.”

The maritime ban specifically targets ZIM, Israel’s largest shipping firm, and comes amidst global concerns over disruptions to shipping in the Red Sea due to attacks on cargo ships.

Ships on their way to Israel are now prohibited from loading cargo at any port in Malaysia with immediate effect. Malaysia, with a majority Muslim population of about 60%, lacks diplomatic relations with Israel and supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, declared the ban as a direct response to Israel’s perceived disregard for humanitarian principles and violation of international law. The immediate enforcement of these restrictions is aimed at ZIM vessels and extends to any ship using the Israeli flag.

Since 7 October, Israeli forces have killed nearly 20,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded around 52,000.

Kuala Lumpur has maintained a longstanding relationship with Palestine, and this latest move aligns with Malaysia’s broader support for the Palestinian cause. Malaysia also donated millions of dollars in aid to Gaza. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has consistently condemned Israel’s bombardment of Gaza since October 7.

The timing of Malaysia’s ban coincides with disruptions in shipping routes, particularly in the Red Sea, where attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels affect the main East-West trade route. The Red Sea, connected to the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal, serves as the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, with approximately 12 per cent of world shipping traffic transiting through the canal.

Container ships navigating the affected waters are facing disruptions and security concerns, leading to measures such as switching off tracking systems or anchoring. Companies attempt to reroute shipments and adjust prices in response to the challenges in the Red Sea region.

The United States recently announced the initiation of a multinational force dedicated to safeguarding trade in the Red Sea. Houthi attacks have compelled many shipping lines to suspend operations, prompting the need for increased security measures in the area.