Qatar warns gas exports impacted by Houthi assaults as US-flagged vessels attacked

QatarEnergy says shipments using ‘alternative routes,’ suggesting longer trips around Africa; US naval ships escorting Maersk vessels intercept projectiles off Yemen’s coast

This undated file photo shows a Qatari liquid natural gas (LNG) tanker ship being loaded up with LNG at Raslaffans Sea Port, northern Qatar. With gas reserves dropping and concerns a war could interrupt flows from Russia, the focus now is getting gas from the United States, Qatar, Algeria and elsewhere until renewables catch up. (AP Photo)
File: This undated file photo shows a Qatari liquid natural gas (LNG) tanker ship being loaded up with LNG at Raslaffans Sea Port, northern Qatar. (AP Photo)

Qatar, one of the world’s top exporters of liquified natural gas, warned Wednesday that its deliveries were affected by ongoing attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels on shipping over Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The statement by QatarEnergy came as an explosion struck near two US-flagged ships carrying cargo for the American government Wednesday in a crucial strait near Yemen, though no damage or injuries were reported. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion immediately fell on the Houthis.

Ships carrying liquified natural gas from Qatar had been delayed previously before heading through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. That’s where the Houthi attacks have snarled shipping in a key route for Asia and the Middle East to ship cargo and energy to Europe.

Qatar, which has served as a key mediator between Hamas and Israel, has yet to see any of its ships attacked, however. A statement from its state-owned QatarEnergy producer said that its “production continues uninterrupted, and our commitment to ensuring the reliable supply of LNG to our customers remains unwavering.”

“While the ongoing developments in the Red Sea area may impact the scheduling of some deliveries as they take alternative routes, LNG shipments from Qatar are being managed with our valued buyers,” the statement said.

The statement suggested QatarEnergy’s cargos now are traveling around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, likely adding time to their trips.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, an organization monitoring Mideast waterways overseen by the British military, reported a blast Wednesday near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen.

The explosion happened some 100 meters (325 feet) from a vessel but caused no damage and its crew is safe, the British said.

The Houthis, who have been launching attacks on ships since November over Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

Danish shipper Maersk, in a statement to The Associated Press, identified two of its vessels near the blast — the US-flagged container ships Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake. It said the US Navy was accompanying its ships at the time.

“While en route, both ships reported seeing explosions close by and the US Navy accompaniment also intercepted multiple projectiles,” Maersk said. “The crew, ship, and cargo are safe and unharmed. The US Navy has turned both ships around and is escorting them back to the Gulf of Aden.”

Maersk said both vessels carried cargo belonging to the US Defense and State Departments, as well as other government agencies, meaning they were “afforded the protection of the US Navy for passage through the strait.”

Illustrative: The ‘Vilnia Maersk’ container vessel is unloaded at the ‘Jade Weserport’ terminal in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, November 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

The ships were operated by Maersk Line, a US subsidiary of Maersk that is “suspending transits in the region until further notice,” the company said.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea, saying they were avenging Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade.

The US and the UK have launched rounds of airstrikes targeting suspected missile storage and launch sites used by the Houthis in their attacks. The rebels now say they’ll target American and British ships as well.

War erupted when Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern communities on October 7, massacring some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 to Gaza. Israel launched its military campaign aiming to return the captives and eliminate the terror group, which has ruled the Strip since 2007.

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