Ship reportedly attacked near Yemen; US hits Houthi targets including undersea drone

Separately, vessel damaged in attack and abandoned by crew; CENTCOM says targets included 1st reported use of underwater drone since attacks began, and rarely-used floating UAV

Yemenis brandishing weapons chant slogans and wave Palestinian flags as they march in the Houthi-run capital Sanaa on February 16, 2024 (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)
Yemenis brandishing weapons chant slogans and wave Palestinian flags as they march in the Houthi-run capital Sanaa on February 16, 2024 (MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

A UK-registered cargo ship reported coming under attack in the Bab al-Mandab Strait off Yemen on Sunday, the British maritime security firm Ambrey said, while the UK Maritime Trade Operations agency reported crew abandoning a ship off Yemen after an explosion.

Ambrey said that a Belize-flagged, UK-registered and Lebanese-operated open hatch general cargo ship reported being under attack in Bab al-Mandab Strait.

The ship was heading north during its journey from Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates to Varna, Bulgaria, when the attack occurred, Ambrey said.

“The partially laden vessel briefly slowed from 10 to six knots and deviated course, and contacted the Djiboutian Navy, before returning to her previous course and speed,” it said.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said it received a report of an incident 35 nautical miles south of Yemen’s Al Mukha, and that an explosion in close proximity to a vessel had resulted in damage, the agency said in an advisory note. It did not identify the ship.

“Military authorities report crew have abandoned the vessel,” UKMTO added in an updated advisory note early on Monday, adding that the vessel was at anchor and all crew were safe.

Houthi supporters attend a rally against the US-led strikes against Yemen and in the support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)

Yemen’s Houthi group has launched repeated drone and missile attacks against international commercial shipping in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait since mid-November, saying it is acting in solidarity with Palestinians amid Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the terror group’s devastating October 7 attack.

The attacks have prompted several companies to halt Red Sea journeys and opt for a longer and more expensive route around Africa, and US and British warplanes have carried out retaliatory strikes across Yemen. The Houthis have since declared the two countries’ interests to be legitimate targets as well.

There was no immediate comment in Houthi-run media on the incident.

Meanwhile, US forces in the Red Sea successfully conducted “five self-defense strikes” to foil attacks by land and sea from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, the American military said Sunday.

The strikes occurred between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday Sanaa time (1200 and 1700 GMT), the US Central Command said, and were part of a series of actions taken by the United States and its allies against the Houthis, aimed at halting the Iran-backed rebels’ repeated attacks on Red Sea shipping lanes.

This photo issued by the UK Ministry of Defence on February 4, 2024 shows a RAF Typhoon FGR4 aircraft returning to the base, following strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. (AS1 Leah Jones/RAF via AP)

The five strikes included targeting “the first observed Houthi employment of a UUV (unmanned underwater vessel) since attacks began” in October, according to a statement from CENTCOM.

Another of the five involved an unmanned surface vessel, or USV, essentially a floating drone. The use of such vessels has been comparatively rare.

The other three involved anti-ship cruise missiles, the statement said.

“CENTCOM identified the anti-ship cruise missiles, unmanned underwater vessel, and the unmanned surface vessel in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” it said, adding it struck the five to “make international waters safer.”

The Red Sea attacks have raised insurance premiums for shipping companies, forcing many to avoid the Red Sea, a vital route that normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

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