Houthis claim another Red Sea attack as shipping prices soar

Iran-backed Yemen rebels falsely claim they targeted vessel sailing to Israel; French shipping operator CMA CGM reports no damage or injuries, says ship was heading to Egypt

Illustrative: The 'CMA CGM Palais Royal,' the world's largest container ship powered by natural gas, sails in the bay of Marseille, southern France, on December 14, 2023. (Christophe Simon/AFP)
Illustrative: The 'CMA CGM Palais Royal,' the world's largest container ship powered by natural gas, sails in the bay of Marseille, southern France, on December 14, 2023. (Christophe Simon/AFP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the latest attack Wednesday on a merchant ship in the Red Sea, as the vessel’s operator sharply raised prices between Asia and Europe.

The Iran-backed rebels, who have launched more than 20 attacks on merchant ships in recent weeks, said they attacked the Malta-flagged freighter believing it was headed for Israel. The ship was not hit.

The Houthis, who control much of impoverished Yemen and have been fighting a civil war since 2014, say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians because of Israel’s war on Hamas.

“The naval forces of the Yemeni armed forces carried out an operation targeting the ship CMA CGM TAGE which was traveling towards the ports of occupied Palestine,” said a Houthi statement published on X, formerly Twitter.

Houthis’ military spokesman Yahya Saree also announced the attack in a televised speech. Saree said the Houthis had sent warning messages to the ship but the crew ignored them. Saree did not elaborate on the nature of the messages or the attack.

He vowed the Houthis will continue their attacks until more aid enters the Gaza Strip, where Israel is at war with the ruling Hamas terror group following its devastating October 7 attack that killed over 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians.

There are already almost daily deliveries of humanitarian aid to the Strip by dozens of trucks. While the UN says it is far from enough amid a growing crisis caused by the war, Israel says the shortfall stems from shortfalls on the UN’s side.

Houthi military spokesman, Brigadier Yahya Saree, delivers a statement on the recent attacks against two commercial vessels in the Red Sea during a march in solidarity with the people of Gaza in the capital Sanaa on December 15, 2023. (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Saree also issued a warning to the United States, which has put together an international naval task force to protect shipping. US Navy ships have engaged Houthis, sinking boats and killing operatives.

“No US attack will pass without a response or punishment,” Saree said.

French shipping operator CMA CGM told Reuters their vessel was not damaged and had not suffered from any incident. It also clarified that the ship’s destination was Egypt and not Israel.

The Houthi attacks, centered on the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb southern chokepoint, have disrupted shipping in a waterway that carries about 12 percent of global trade.

After the latest attack, CMA CGM announced a big hike in prices, with a 12-meter (40-foot) container between Asia and the western Mediterranean doubling from $3,000 to $6,000.

Italian-Swiss company MSC has also raised prices as ships are diverted around southern Africa rather than traverse the Red Sea, which is linked to the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal.

On Tuesday, Danish shipping giant Maersk extended a suspension of services through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, south of Yemen, “until further notice.”

The Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles toward merchant ships near the Bab al-Mandeb Strait late on Tuesday, the US military said earlier.

United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations had initially reported explosions near a cargo ship sailing between the coasts of Eritrea and Yemen.

“Master reports no damage to the vessel and crew are reported safe at present,” the agency, run by Britain’s Royal Navy, said in a brief message.

None of the commercial ships nearby reported any damage, the US Central Command said, adding that it was the 24th attack since November 19 against commercial shipping in the area.

“These illegal actions endangered the lives of dozens of innocent mariners and continue to disrupt the free flow of international commerce,” CENTCOM said on X.

A Maersk container ship near Sir Abu Nuair island off Dubai on June 4, 2022. (Karim SAHIB / AFP)

The Houthis have warned they will target ships in the Red Sea that have links to Israel. Several of their missiles and drones have been shot down by US, French and British warships.

In response to the attacks, the US set up a multinational naval task force to protect Red Sea shipping.

On Sunday, the US military said it had sunk three Houthi boats as gunmen tried to board a Maersk container ship in the Red Sea. The rebels said 10 of their fighters were killed in the incident.

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