US ship catches fire in drone attack off Yemen, as Houthi rebels defy Washington

Crew unharmed by reportedly damaged gangway, as armed UAV strikes bulk carrier in Gulf of Aden, with Iran-backed group vowing to keep up attacks after sanctions reimposed

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)
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)

A US-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden came under attack Wednesday from a bomb-carrying drone launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, officials said.

The attack on the Genco Picardy represented the second in recent days, targeting vessels directly linked to America after US-led strikes targeting the Houthis, and came hours after the Biden administration moved to reimpose sanctions on the group, giving it a terror designation.

The attack happened some 70 miles (110 kilometers) southeast of Aden, where the drone smashed into the vessel, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, an arm of the British navy that oversees Mideast waterways.

The ship’s captain reported there was fire onboard that had been extinguished, it said. “Vessel and crew are safe and proceeding to next port of call,” it added.

Ambrey said that the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier was hit as it was heading east along the Gulf of Aden.

“The vessel’s gangway incurred damage, and at the time of writing, it was deemed not usable,” Ambrey added in its advisory note.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a military spokesman for the Houthis, identified the ship attacked as the bulk carrier Genco Picardy.

The Houthis “confirm that a response to the American and British attacks is inevitably coming, and that any new attack will not remain without response and punishment,” Saree said in a prerecorded video address.

He claimed the ship suffered a “direct hit.”

“The naval forces will not hesitate to target all sources of threat in the Red and Arabian Sea(s) within the legitimate right to defend Yemen and to continue supporting the oppressed Palestinian people,” Saree said.

This undated photograph released on Jan. 16, 2024, by the US military’s Central Command shows what it is described as Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen’s Houthi seized off a vessel in the Arabian Sea. (U.S. Central Command via AP)

Ship-ownership data listed the Genco Picardy’s owner as New York City-based Genco Ship Management. The company did not immediately return a request for comment.

Satellite-tracking data had put that vessel off Saudi Arabia in recent days, as it was bound for India.

Wednesday’s attack came shortly after the Biden administration designated the Houthis as a “specially designated global terrorist” entity, partially restoring sanctions it lifted three years ago, as Washington seeks to stymie the attacks so carriers can resume traversing the vital shipping lane.

The move is aimed at blocking the group’s access to the global financial system, though it falls short of the more far-reaching option at the Biden administration’s disposal — re-labeling the Houthis as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

The Iran-backed group said earlier it would continue to target ships using the vital Red Sea shipping lanes.

“We will not give up targeting Israeli ships or ships heading towards ports in occupied Palestine… in support of the Palestinian people,” the group’s spokesman Mohammed Abdelsalam told Al Jazeera TV, adding that they would respond to new strikes on Yemen by the United States or Britain.

The US and its allies have carried out three rounds of airstrikes targeting Houthi sites over the last week, to try to deter the rebels. However, the Houthis have launched several attacks in the time since, further imperiling ships traveling on a crucial trade route for cargo and energy shipments moving from Asia and the Middle East toward Europe.

The Houthis, who rally under the banner “Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam,” have also launched a number of drones and missiles directly at Israel.

Members of the Yemeni Coast Guard affiliated with the Houthi group patrol the sea with Palestinian flags as demonstrators march through the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, in solidarity with the people of Gaza on January 4, 2024. (AFP)

The Houthi attacks are one part of the wider tensions gripping the region. Iran staged airstrikes late Monday in Iraq, killing at least four people. The UK’s ambassador to Iraq, Stephen Hitchen, said Wednesday that a British national, Karam Mikhael, was among the civilians killed there.

Meanwhile, Iran has been edging closer to acknowledging its own role in attacking a vessel in the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka and India back on January 4. Then, the chemical tanker Pacific Gold was struck by what the US Navy called “an Iranian one-way attack” drone, causing some damage to the vessel but no injuries.

On Wednesday, the Lebanese broadcaster Al-Mayadeen reported Iran’s Revolutionary Guard carried out that attack, as well as another one — not independently confirmed on a separate vessel. Al-Mayadeen is a channel politically affiliated with Hezbollah that previously announced other Iran-linked attacks in the region.

File: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon approaches the oiler USNS Kanawha (background) for replenishment-at-sea operation in the Red Sea on December 25, 2023, in this handout photo. (Elexia Morelos / US Department of Defense / AFP)

The Pacific Gold is managed by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, a company that is ultimately controlled by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer. Eastern Pacific previously has been targeted in suspected Iranian attacks.

But Iran potentially acknowledging the Pacific Gold attack comes as Tehran has been trying to lash out without directly targeting either the US or Israel.

Israel launched a campaign to destroy Hamas after the terror group carried out a massive assault on southern on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Terrorists also abducted at least 240 people, most of whom are still captives in Gaza.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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