Houthis strike cargo ship in Red Sea with cruise missiles, seriously wounding civilian

Iranian-backed group hits Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned, Polish-operated bulk carrier M/V Verbana, setting it alight; US says it destroyed 3 Houthi boats and a drone

Yemenis brandish their rifles as they march in the Houthi-run capital Sanaa in solidarity with the people of Gaza on May 17, 2024 (Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)
Yemenis brandish their rifles as they march in the Houthi-run capital Sanaa in solidarity with the people of Gaza on May 17, 2024 (Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Yemen’s Houthi rebels launched two anti-ship cruise missiles and struck a commercial ship Thursday in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen, setting it on fire and severely wounding one civilian mariner, authorities said.

The M/V Verbena was still ablaze and the mariner was flown by a US helicopter based on the USS Philippine Sea to another nearby ship for medical treatment, the US military’s Central Command said.

In a statement, Central Command said the Verbena is a Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned and Polish-operated bulk cargo carrier that had docked in Malaysia and was on its way to Italy carrying wood. “The M/V Verbena reported damage and subsequent fires on board. The crew continues to fight the fire,” the statement said.

The attack is the latest such assault in the Houthis’ campaign over the Israel-Hamas war.

Earlier Thursday, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said a vessel had been attacked and had caught fire. And the private security firm Ambrey said a merchant vessel made a radio distress call saying it had been struck by a missile.

The Houthis later claimed the attack on the Verbena, as well as attacks on two other ships in the Red Sea. Central Command said the Houthis had launched two ballistic missiles in the Red Sea that caused “no injuries or significant damage.”

The UKMTO said one vessel earlier missed by the Houthis was hit by a “third projectile” that caused “minor damage.” The vessel was able to remain underway, it said.

The attack on the Verbena followed the Houthis launching a boat-borne bomb attack against a commercial ship in the Red Sea on Wednesday.

Central Command also said it destroyed a Houthi drone boat and two patrol boats in the Red Sea, as well as one airborne drone.

The Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital nearly a decade ago and have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition since shortly after, have been targeting shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor.

They say the attacks are aimed at stopping the war between Israel and Hamas and supporting the Palestinians, though the attacks often target vessels that have nothing to do with the conflict.

File: Graduate students take part in a parade in support of the Houthi rebel group in Sanaa, Yemen, June 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, killed three sailors, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the US Maritime Administration.

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.

Also Thursday, the Washington-based National Democratic Institute said three of its staff were detained by the Houthis earlier this month. Their detention comes as staff of United Nations agencies and those working for aid groups also have been detained in a widening crackdown by the rebels.

“This arbitrary and inhumane treatment of Yemeni citizens involved in humanitarian assistance, diplomacy, democracy and human rights, peacemaking and civil society development is entirely without foundation and must be ended immediately,” the institute said.

It called for the “swift release by the Houthi regime of our staff, and of all individuals who have been unjustly detained.”

The institute is a democracy promotion organization that has worked in Yemen since 1993. It receives funding from the US government and others.

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