Suspected Houthi attack targets Liberian-flagged tanker in Bab el-Mandeb Strait

Ship and crew safe; Yemeni rebels don’t immediately claim assault, which comes a day after their longest-range strike yet, following brief lull in Red Sea attacks

Houthi rebels rally in support of the Palestinians in Gaza and against US strikes on Yemen, outside Sanaa, January 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)
Houthi rebels rally in support of the Palestinians in Gaza and against US strikes on Yemen, outside Sanaa, January 22, 2024. (AP Photo, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A suspected attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeted a Liberian-flagged tanker in the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait on Wednesday, while authorities acknowledged the previous day that the rebels had launched their longest-range attack yet on a United States-flagged vessel near the Arabian Sea.

The attacks come after an unexplained pause of a week and a half. The rebels may be regrouping ahead of the arrival of a new US aircraft carrier to the region after the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower began heading home.

The Joint Maritime Information Center (JMIC), which is overseen by the US Navy, identified the Liberian-flagged vessel as the Mount Fuji. The attack occurred south of Mocha, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations Center (UKMTO) said. The captain reported explosions off the vessel’s side.

The “vessel and all crew are safe,” the UKMTO said. “The vessel is proceeding to its next port of call.”

The Houthis have been attacking ships in the busy Red Sea corridor since November, a month after the war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 thousands-strong assault on southern Israel that saw nearly 1,200 people killed and 251 taken hostage.

The Yemeni rebels had not claimed the most recent attack as of early Thursday, though they often don’t do so for hours or days.

The USS aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower sails in the Red Sea on June 12, 2024. (AP/Bernat Armangue)

On Tuesday, the Houthis said they launched missiles at a US-flagged container ship in the Gulf of Aden. The JMIC identified the ship as the Maersk Sentosa and said it was the longest-distance attack seen from Yemen by the Houthis since November.

Late Tuesday, the Houthis issued a broad claim of responsibility for three attacks, which included the Maersk Sentosa. Maersk, a Danish firm that is the world’s biggest shipping company, confirmed to The Associated Press that its vessel had been targeted.

“No injuries to the crew or damage to the ship or cargo were reported,” the shipping company said in the statement. “The vessel is currently continuing her voyage towards her next port of call.”

The Houthis have targeted more than 70 vessels by firing missiles and drones in their campaign, which has killed four sailors. The rebels have seized one vessel and sank two since November.

The MV Tutor sinks in the Red Sea after it was struck by a Houthi drone vessel, June 12, 2024. (Etat-Major des Armées/ France via AP)

In June, the number of Houthi attacks on merchant vessels increased to levels not seen since December, according to the JMIC. US-led airstrikes have targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes on May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.

The Houthis maintain that their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain as part of the rebels’ support for the Hamas terror group in its war against Israel. However, many of the ships attacked have little or no connection to the war — including some bound for Iran, which backs the Houthis.

Few of the Houthi attacks have targeted US-flagged commercial vessels.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which is set to replace the Eisenhower in the Red Sea, is seen in the South China Sea, July 4, 2024. (Seaman Ryan Holloway/US Navy, via AP)

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is due to enter the Middle East region and replace the Eisenhower, which spent months in the Red Sea to counter the Houthis. The Navy has not offered new details on the Roosevelt’s location, though an image published by the Navy put the carrier in the South China Sea on Friday.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the US Central Command said its forces had destroyed two uncrewed Houthi aerial vehicles and one uncrewed Houthi surface vehicle over the Red Sea.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: