Indian Navy rescues crew of Houthi-struck US ship off coast of Yemen

Warship sent to assist US Genco Picardy recovers 22 on board including nine Indian nationals; fire on vessel extinguished

Illustrative: INS Chennai, a Kolkata class destroyer, is moored at a jetty in Mumbai, India, Friday, November 18, 2016. (Rajanish Kakade/AP)
Illustrative: INS Chennai, a Kolkata class destroyer, is moored at a jetty in Mumbai, India, Friday, November 18, 2016. (Rajanish Kakade/AP)

NEW DELHI — The Indian Navy said on Thursday it had rescued the crew of a US-owned vessel in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemen’s Houthi movement as tensions in the region’s sea lanes disrupted global trade.

Following the attack on the US Genco Picardy late on Wednesday, the US military said its forces had conducted strikes on 14 Houthi missiles that “presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region.”

Attacks by the Iran-allied Houthi militia on ships in and around the Red Sea since November have slowed trade between Asia and Europe and alarmed major powers in an escalation of the war between Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians and have threatened to target US ships in response to American and British strikes on the group’s positions.

War between Israel and Hamas erupted when the terror group carried out a devastating attack on southern Israel that killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists who burst into Israel from the Gaza Strip also abducted at least 240 people of all ages, most of whom are still being held captive in the Palestinian enclave.

Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and release the hostages.

India said it diverted a warship deployed in the region to rescue the 22 crew on board the Genco Picardy, including nine Indians. The crew were all safe and a fire on board the vessel had been extinguished.

The Houthi movement said its missiles had made a “direct hit” on the bulk carrier.

Shipping operator Genco confirmed the attack, and said its vessel was hit by a projectile while it was transiting through the Gulf of Aden with a cargo of phosphate rock.

Trade flows disrupted

The United States on Wednesday returned the Yemen-based Houthis to a list of terrorist groups. US officials said the move was aimed at cutting off funding and weapons the movement has used to attack or hijack ships.

On Monday, Houthi forces had struck the US-owned and operated dry bulk ship Gibraltar Eagle with an anti-ship ballistic missile. There were no reports of injuries or significant damage.

The attacks target a route that accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic and acts as a vital conduit between Europe and Asia.

The alternative shipping route around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope can add 10-14 days to a journey compared to passage via the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

Houthi fighters and tribesmen stage a rally against the US and the UK strikes on Houthi-run military sites near Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday, January 14, 2024. (AP)

The crisis was rippling through the business world, with banking executives worried the crisis might reignite inflationary pressures.

War-hit Ukraine said the situation had led to a slowdown in its agricultural exports this month. Pepco Group, the owner of the Poundland group of discount retail stores, warned that its inventory levels could be impacted. Denmark’s Maersk and other large shipping lines have instructed hundreds of commercial vessels to stay clear of the Red Sea, sending them on the longer route around Africa or pausing until the safety of vessels can be assured.

The attacks, as well as weather-related closures and stoppages in Europe, were causing congestion at several container terminals, Maersk told its customers on Thursday.

Italian ports are concerned that they are being bypassed as ships steer away from the Mediterranean route.

Freight rates have more than doubled since early December, according to maritime consultancy Drewry’s world container index, while insurance sources say war risk premiums for shipments through the Red Sea are also rising.

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