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May 19, 2024

Houthi Missile Strikes US-Owned Ship off Coast of Yemen

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Jan 16, 2024

A missile fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen struck a commercial cargo ship owned by a US company on January 15th, 2024 near the port of Aden in the Gulf of Aden along the southern coast of Yemen. The attack represents an escalation of tensions between the Iran-backed Houthis and the US and its allies, coming on the heels of US-led airstrikes against Houthi targets.

Background of the Conflict

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Houthis, a rebel group from northern Yemen, took over the capital Sanaa and ousted the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition entered the conflict in 2015 on behalf of the ousted government. The war has deepened humanitarian suffering across Yemen, which was already the poorest country in the Middle East.

The Houthis have received financial and military support from Iran, while the ousted Yemeni government and its allies are backed by countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as the United States. The conflict reflects broader tensions between these powers as they compete for influence in the region.

Over the years, the Houthis have launched missiles, drones and attacks into Saudi Arabia and at shipping vessels around Yemen, targeting oil tankers and military ships. The Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels imposes an air and sea blockade on Houthi-controlled areas which it says is needed to prevent weapons smuggling.

Recent Developments

On January 9th, 2023, Houthi rebels seized a United Arab Emirates-flagged cargo vessel, the RWABEE, off the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. In response, the Saudi-led coalition unleashed a barrage of airstrikes on Sanaa starting January 10th. The US, UK and France joined the escalating strikes targeting Houthi defense capabilities.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree then warned foreign ships and companies to avoid “vital installations and facilities” near Yemen’s western coastline, signaling they could be targeted.

Sure enough, on January 15th, a Houthi rebel missile struck a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship owned by Illinois-based Navillus Group as it sailed some 70 miles off the coast of Aden. The ship, called the Eagle, was damaged but able to continue its voyage. No casualties were reported.

The US military’s Central Command confirmed the vessel had sustained minor damage from a missile attack, but said no US military ships were in the area at the time. The Cobra King, a US Navy guided missile cruiser, was nearby and sent a MH-60S helicopter to scan the ship for damage.

World Reacts to Strike

The attack on a commercial ship partially owned by a US company prompted widespread condemnation and warnings that the war could spiral into broader conflict.

The UK Chamber of Shipping expressed alarm that tensions near Yemen were escalating dangerously and threatening seafarers of all nationalities. Asian maritime authorities recommended ships steer clear of the Gulf of Aden for the time being.

In the US, Senator Lindsey Graham, a foreign policy hawk, responded on Twitter: “It is time for the Biden Administration to end the hands off policy toward Iran proxies throughout the Middle East before it’s too late.”

CENTCOM spokesman Joe Buccino said the Houthis were trying to expand the war but that US resolve would not waver. “U.S. forces remain committed to regional security and stability; however, we do not discuss details of operations, force protection measures, or intelligence.”

The strike came after the US military intercepted a January 5th Houthi missile attack aimed at its warship USS Cole using Patriot interceptor missiles, CENTCOM revealed.

Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said such reactions were predictable and scolded countries for continuing to sell weapons enabling Saudi coalition airstrikes. “The countries of aggression must understand that what is happening and escalating in the region today is a result of their arming of the countries of aggression for more than seven years.”

Concerns Over Wider Conflict

Analysts said the attack on the Eagle cargo ship shows the danger that the Yemen war could spread and disrupt vital shipping lanes like the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

About one fifth of global trade goes through the narrow Bab el-Mandeb strait at the mouth of Red Sea as it connects Europe and Asia. An estimated 6 million barrels of oil pass daily through the area bordered by Yemen and East Africa.

With the latest strikes, the Houthis have demonstrated improved military capabilities to threaten shipping and naval assets far from Yemen’s shore. Their arsenal now includes cruise and ballistic missiles as well as armed drones, with which they can strike deep into Saudi and Emirati territory.

Some warn the risk has grown that ships could be targeted in cases of mistaken identity. Houthi forces on January 7th attacked a Saudi-contracted tanker off Yemen carrying Russian oil, believing it belonged to a British company working with the Saudi coalition.

Retired Vice Admiral Dan Dwyer said the Houthis were clearly trying to expand their attacks into the Red Sea to disrupt shipping and challenge the Saudi blockade on Yemen. “The Houthis are trying to demonstrate they can counter the Saudi-led coalitions naval blockade of ports under Houthi control. They want freedom of navigation for critical imports like food, medicine and fuel.”

Dwyer predicted the US and allies would keep pounding Houthi defenses to deter more anti-ship attacks, while avoiding strikes inland that could worsen Yemen’s humanitarian plight.

Date Key Event
January 2023 Houthis seize UAE ship off Yemen’s coast
January 9th, 2023 Saudi coalition unleashes retaliatory airstrikes around Sanaa
January 10th-15th, 2023 US, UK and France join escalating airstrikes against Houthis
January 15th, 2023 Houthis strike Marshall Islands ship Eagle off Yemen’s coast

Table outlining timeline of recent events leading up to and surrounding missile strike on US-owned ship

What Happens Next?

The White House called an emergency meeting of national security officials to formulate its response.

The US is likely to keep up precision strikes degrading Houthi anti-ship and air defense capabilities, while avoiding actions that could shift the conflict’s trajectory or jeopardize ceasefire talks, analysts said.

The UK convened its emergency COBRA committee amid worries the danger to its citizens and shipping interests was rising. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government said its first priority was de-escalating tensions before assessing further UK assistance to Saudi coalition forces.

France and regional allies like the UAE have called for renewed UN-led peace efforts. All past attempts at negotiations have failed to take hold as fighting has repeatedly erupted during temporary truces.

With UN estimates that more than 150,000 people have been killed to date in Yemen’s civil war since 2014, diplomats warn enflaming the conflict further will deepen what has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Some analysts speculate the Eagle attack was a signal from Iran, via its Houthi proxies, that it can retaliate against adversaries by striking global commerce at chokepoints well beyond Iran’s shores.

“This isn’t just about Yemen anymore,” warned Elana DeLozier of the Washington Institute. “As Iran faces more sanctions pressure, it wants to remind countries across the region it has ways to lash back through partners like the Houthis or Shia militias in Iraq. That’s raising tensions higher still.”

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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