Houthis claim attack on Portuguese-flagged ship in Arabian Sea, raising concerns over group’s capabilities

This is a locator map for Yemen with its capital, Sana'a. (AP Photo)
This is a locator map for Yemen with its capital, Sana'a. (AP Photo)

A Portuguese-flagged container ship came under attack by a drone in the far reaches of the Arabian Sea, corresponding with a claim by Yemen’s Houthi rebels that they assaulted the ship there, authorities say.

The attack on the MSC Orion, occurring some 600 kilometers (373 miles) off the coast of Yemen, appears to be the first confirmed deep-sea assault claimed by the Iran-backed Houthis since they began targeting ships in November.

The attack happened last Friday, according to the Joint Maritime Information Center, which operates as part of the US-led Combined Maritime Forces in the Mideast.

The ship “sustained only minor damage and all crew on board are safe,” the center says.

The MSC Orion has been associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime, which is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group, and the Joint Maritime Information Center assesses “that MSC Orion was likely targeted due to [its] perceived Israeli affiliation,” the center says in a report.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a military spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, claimed the attack on the Orion early Tuesday. He did not explain why it took the rebels days to acknowledge the attack.

The attack immediately raises questions about how the Houthis could have carried out an assault hundreds of kilometers from the shores of Yemen on a moving target.

The Houthis are not known to operate an expeditionary naval fleet, nor do they have access to satellites or other sophisticated means of controlling long-distance drones.

Iran, which has been supplying the Shiite rebels in their yearslong war in Yemen, has been assessed by the West and experts to have been behind at least one complex attack claimed by the Houthis — the 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields that temporarily halved the kingdom’s energy production.

Iran also routinely operates military vessels in the Arabian Sea and just seized the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries and its crew just before its unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel on April 13.

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