New Houthi missile hits American-owned cargo ship off coast of Yemen, U.S. officials confirm

Must read

A Houthi-fired missile struck an American-owned cargo ship traveling off Yemen’s coast near the Gulf of Aden on Monday, U.S. military officials said, the latest in a string of attacks by the Iran-backed rebel group on regional shipping lanes in recent months that have exacerbated regional tensions.

The brazen attack raised serious questions about the effectiveness of U.S. and British airstrikes on Houthi positions in Yemen last week.

Those intense airstrikes, backed by some U.S. allies, targeted sites housing Houthi missiles, drones, radar equipment and other tools used to launch attacks against commercial ships, Pentagon officials said.

The events Monday strongly suggest that the Houthis retain the ability and willingness to wreak havoc on vessels traveling through the Red Sea and elsewhere along the Yemeni coast, some of the world’s busiest and most strategically vital waterways.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations reported that the U.S.-owned vessel was “hit from above by a missile.” U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the region, confirmed the incident and said Houthi forces were to blame.

“Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and struck the M/V Gibraltar Eagle, a Marshall Islands-flagged, U.S.-owned and -operated container ship,” CENTCOM said in a statement posted on social media. “The ship has reported no injuries or significant damage and is continuing its journey.”

SEE ALSO: No ‘material damage’? Questions mount over impact of U.S. strikes on Yemen’s Houthi rebels

The Gibraltar Eagle’s operator, Eagle Bulk Shipping, confirmed that the ship, carrying a steel product cargo, was struck while sailing about 100 miles off Yemen’s coast.

“As a result of the impact the vessel suffered limited damage to a cargo hold but is stable and is heading out of the area,” the company said in a statement. “All seafarers onboard the vessel are confirmed to be uninjured.”

The Associated Press, citing private satellite data, said the vessel apparently was headed for the Suez Canal but turned around after the attack.

Many global shipping lines, citing the uncertain security environment, have implemented plans to suspend or divert commercial shipments through the waterway.

Hours before the strike on the American ship, U.S. troops detected an anti-ship ballistic missile fired toward southern Red Sea commercial shipping lanes, CENTCOM said. The missile failed in flight and crashed on land in Yemen, officials said. No injuries or damage were reported.

On Sunday, the Houthis fired a missile toward the USS Laboon, a warship traveling through the southern Red Sea. The missile was shot down and did not cause any damage or injuries, U.S. officials said.

The multiple salvos over a frantic 24-hour period mark the first Houthi attacks since the massive U.S. and British airstrikes against the rebel group in Yemen. During the initial rounds of bombing Thursday night, U.S. and British troops struck 28 locations and destroyed more than 60 Houthi targets, Pentagon officials said. The U.S. launched a follow-up strike on Friday that hit a Houthi radar site.

The Houthis had launched at least 26 attacks on Red Sea shipping lanes over two months. Houthi leaders have said their Red Sea campaign is retaliation against Israel for its war with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, though many of the ships targeted seemingly had no connection with the Jewish state.

Other Iran-linked forces, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria, have stepped up attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets in the region since Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist rampage in southern Israel and the brutal urban warfare unleashed in retaliation in Gaza.

Sunak faces flak

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced Parliament on Monday. He said it has become clear that the Houthi campaign isn’t about the fighting in Gaza.

“We shouldn’t fall for their malign narrative that this is about Israel and Gaza,” Mr. Sunak said. “They target ships from around the world. We continue to work toward a sustainable cease-fire in Gaza and to get more aid to civilians. We also continue to support a negotiated settlement in Yemen’s civil war.

“But I want to be very clear that this action is completely unrelated to those issues,” he said. “It is a direct response to the Houthis’ attacks on international shipping. And we should also recognize the risks of inaction. It would weaken international security and the rule of law, further damage freedom of navigation and the global economy, and send a dangerous message that British vessels and British interests are fair game.”

Although the U.S. has worked to keep the Israel-Hamas clashes in Gaza from expanding into a regionwide war with Iran and its allies, President Biden has vowed that the U.S. would strike the Yemeni militant group again if necessary. Some on Capitol Hill question the president’s unilateral authority to strike a nation with which the U.S. is not formally at war.

“These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes,” Mr. Biden said in a statement after the initial strikes. “I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

U.S. military officials insisted that the strikes last week degraded Houthi capabilities, but the rebel group said otherwise.

Houthi spokesman Nasruldeen Amer told Al Jazeera over the weekend that the attacks caused no “material damage” and vowed that a fierce response was imminent.

“This new strike will have a firm, strong and effective response,” he said.

At least some parts of the Biden administration acknowledge that the Houthi intimidation campaign is taking a toll.

The U.S. Maritime Administration, under the Transportation Department, issued an advisory Monday about “a high degree of risk to commercial vessels” traveling near Yemen.

“While the decision to transit remains at the discretion of individual vessels and companies, it is recommended that U.S. flag and U.S.-owned commercial vessels” stay away from Yemen in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden “until further notice,” the advisory said.

Another Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdulsalam, told Reuters that the U.S.-British attacks will not have a significant impact on the group’s plan to stop Israel-linked vessels from sailing through the Red Sea.

Citing two unidentified U.S. officials, The New York Times reported Saturday that the Houthis retained roughly three-quarters of their ability to fire missiles and drones into the Red Sea and surrounding area despite the airstrikes.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in Gaza as Israeli forces tried to root out Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups hiding among the general population in the densely populated enclave.

The heads of three United Nations agencies warned Monday that Gaza civilians are in urgent need of more aid to ward off widespread famine and disease. Without directly blaming Israel, the leaders of the World Food Program, UNICEF and the World Health Organization said new entry routes to Gaza must be opened, more trucks must be allowed to enter each day, and aid workers and those seeking aid must have safely.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

More articles

Latest article