Transport links in the Middle East have been thrown into chaos with the announcement by several countries in the region that they will sever all diplomatic relations with Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and the United Arab Emirates made the proclamation in response to Qatar’s alleged ties to organisations linked to terrorism, and that all air, sea and land transport links would be terminated, as stated in The Loadstar.

The full implications of these developments for the logistics sector remain unclear at this stage, but could potentially be massive.

For instance, on June 6, authorities in at Abu Dhabi ports announced a shipping embargo on all Qatari flagged vessels; all vessels going to/arriving from Qatar, regardless of flag; and vessels having cargo destined for Qatar, or coming from Qatar, including transiting cargo. This prohibits ships from docking at United Arab Emirates Ports or entering surrounding territorial waters. The authorities in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain issued a similar notice.

The three main airlines operating in the Middle East will all be affected by the development, with national flag carrier Qatar Airways likely to be hit hardest. This is because airspace restrictions for this carrier will mean alternative routes will be required, resulting in longer journey times and higher fuel costs. Shippers will not be able to use Qatar Airways for any routes flying to the affected countries, or Emirates or Etihad for any flights terminating in Doha. One industry insider believes this restriction has significant implications for transhipment business.

Qatar Airways almost immediately suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia and advised cargo customers to contact their nearest office with any queries. The airline is expected to suspend flights to the other affected countries. Etihad, Saudia, flyDubai, Emirates, Gulf Airways, and Air Arabia announced that all flights to Doha would cease from June 6.

Many of these airlines were installing dedicated customer service teams to support affected customers.

Doha, ideally positioned between Asia and Europe, has blossomed as a hub destination in recent years. Journey times lengthened because of altering flight paths could reduce its attraction as a hub destination, suggested Ghanem Nuseibeh, director at advisory firm Cornerstone Global.

However, European airlines, such as British Airways, have intimated that their schedules to Doha will not be affected by this announcement.

Major construction projects including a new port within Qatar are likely to be affected by the closure of its only land border with Saudi Arabia.

The issue was one of several pressing topics being discussed at The International Air Transport Association (IATA) gathering in Cancun on June 4-6.