23 DEC 2023 

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim grabbed international headlines by announcing an immediate ban on all shipping related to Israel and specifically calling out Zim. It is the latest step from a country that is strongly pro-Palestinian and a government that refuses to recognize Israel. 

The statement announced a “permanent ban on this company,” saying it was in response to the actions of Israel during the war against Hamas. The Prime Minister is reversing a 20-year relationship the country has had with ZIM while saying he is confident the decision will not affect Malaysia’s trade activities.

Malaysia highlights that it has permitted Zim’s ships to make port calls in the country since 2002. The cabinet granted permission for Zim to begin loading and unloading cargo in Malaysian ports, including the primary terminal at Port Klang, in 2005. Zim currently has two international ocean routes that include port calls in Port Klang as well as various other routes operated in collaboration with shipping partners.

The country’s Transport Ministry said it would begin turning away any Zim vessels effectively immediately and that it was working with shippers and logistics companies that would be impacted by the ban. The first Zim vessel based on AIS data to be impacted will be the Zim Rotterdam (registered in Liberia, 10,000 TEU) which shows a scheduled port call on December 24 coming from China. Two days later, Zim Europe (registered in Liberia, 5,600 TEU) was due to make a port call coming from Africa and on December 31, Zim Yantian (registered in Malta, 9,300 TEU) was scheduled for a port call. The new year was scheduled to start with a port call on January 10 by the Zim Tampa (registered in Liberia, 6,500 TEU). Zim has not publicly commented on the ban or how it would impact its operations.

The Prime Minister in his statement announced that the government has also decided to “no longer accept ships using the Israeli flag.” He said those ships would not be permitted to dock in any of the country’s ports and that any ship “en route to Israel,” would also be banned from loading cargo at Malaysian ports.

The country is 60 percent Muslim in its population and the government has long taken an anti-Israel stance in its actions and statements. There are reports that people in Malaysia have been arrested for making pro-Israel statements in public. 

While today’s announcement is expected to have a limited effect on trade or the shipping industry, analysts highlight that other Muslim nations in Asia also refuse to recognize Israel. They point to countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as nations including the Maldives which could follow Malysia’s lead and create a regional ban for Zim and Israeli shipping.