Houthis sink commercial shipping vessel in Red Sea, Filipino sailor killed

Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned-and-operated ship was attacked by boat drone last week; US says crewman killed in attack, but Philippines yet to confirm; Sri Lankan national wounded

Belize-flagged cargo ship Rubymar, damaged in a February 19 missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, floats in the Red Sea. (Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies / AFP)
Belize-flagged cargo ship Rubymar, damaged in a February 19 missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, floats in the Red Sea. (Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies / AFP)

A bulk carrier sank days after an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels that is believed to have killed one mariner on board and critically wounded another, authorities said early Wednesday.

The Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned-and-operated Tutor sank in the Red Sea, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said in a warning to sailors in the region.

“Military authorities report maritime debris and oil sighted in the last reported location,” the UKMTO said. “The vessel is believed to have sunk.”

The Houthis, quoting foreign reports in media outlets they control, acknowledged the sinking.

The US military did not acknowledge the sinking, nor did it respond to requests for comment.

The Tutor came under attack on June 12 by a bomb-carrying Houthi drone boat in the Red Sea. John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, said Monday that the attack killed “a crew member who hailed from the Philippines.”

The Philippines has yet to acknowledge the death, but the man who had been aboard the Tutor has been missing for over a week in the Red Sea, which faces intense summertime heat.

“We remain hopeful and are in touch with the family of the seafarer,” said the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers on Tuesday, according to Philippines-based news site Rappler.

Video circulating on social media this week purported to show the vessel’s crew in the moments just before and after it was struck by the Houthi drone.

The sinking of the Tutor came despite a months-long US-led campaign in the region that has seen the Navy face its most intense maritime fighting since World War II, with near-daily attacks targeting commercial vessels and warships.

It is the second vessel sunk by the Houthis since they began their attacks on international shipping following the outbreak of war between Israel and the Hamas terror group last year.

That war began on October 7, when thousands of terrorists invaded southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing some 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages.

The resulting war has killed upwards of 30,000 Palestinians, according to numbers from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry that cannot be verified, and which do not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

The Houthis have maintained their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the US or the UK, though many of the ships they’ve attacked have little or no connection to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

“The Houthis killed an innocent crew member from the Philippines and critically wounded a Sri Lankan sailor who were guilty of no crimes, who were simply doing their jobs as professional mariners,” said John Kirby on Monday in reference to the Tutor.

“They weren’t delivering arms to Israel.  They weren’t taking sides in the Middle East.  They were just manning their posts aboard ship, trying to earn a paycheck and keep global commerce moving,” he said.

The Houthis have launched more than 60 attacks targeting specific vessels and fired off other missiles and drones in their campaign that has killed a total of four sailors. They’ve seized one vessel and sunk two since November.

A US-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.

A Yemeni lifts a placard with the slogan of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels written in English, during a march held in the capital Sanaa, March 22, 2024. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

The use of a boat loaded with explosives raised the specter of the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole, a suicide assault by al-Qaeda when the warship was at port in the Yemeni city of Aden, killing 17 on board.

The Cole is now part of a US Navy operation in the Red Sea led by the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower to try and halt the Houthi attacks, though the rebels continue their assaults.

In March, the Belize-flagged Rubymar carried a load of fertilizer sank in the Red Sea after taking on water for days following a rebel attack.

A recent report by the US Defense Intelligence Agency acknowledged container shipping through Red Sea has declined by 90% since December over the attacks. As much as 15% of the world’s maritime traffic flows through that corridor.

Meanwhile Wednesday, the Houthis said US-led airstrikes targeted Raymah, a province in Yemen under rebel control. The Houthi-controlled SABA news agency described a local radio station’s building as being “totally destroyed” in the strikes.

About a week earlier, the Houthis said similar strikes killed two people and wounded nine others, without saying if those hurt were fighters or civilians.

The US military’s Central Command said in an earlier statement it destroyed eight Houthi drones in Yemen, while also destroying a Houthi drone in flight over the Gulf of Aden over the last day.

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