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May 19, 2024

Houthis Widen Targets as Attacks on Ships in Red Sea Intensify

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Dec 12, 2023

A cruise missile fired by Houthi rebels struck a Norwegian-flagged oil tanker off the coast of Yemen on Monday, marking the latest attack in the rebel group’s intensifying maritime assault that now threatens a wider range of targets.

Tanker Hit by Missile North of Yemeni Port

The Singapore-owned MT Strida was hit by a missile while anchored about 8 nautical miles off the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, according to Dryad Global intelligence. The crew reported an engine room fire, which appears to have been contained. No injuries were reported among the tanker’s 23 crew members.

While damage assessments are still underway, the incident follows threats by the Iran-backed Houthis last week to attack vessels sailing to Israel. The Strida had recently delivered oil to storage facilities in the Red Sea, according to ship-tracking data, and was likely preparing for its next voyage.

Escalating Tactics Raise Alarm

Monday’s strike comes amid heightened concerns over an emboldened Houthi insurgency that in recent months has incorporated new weapons and tactics in attacking international shipping lanes through the Red Sea and Bab-al-Mandeb Strait.

Over the past two weeks, Houthi forces have struck vessels with bomb-laden drone boats in at least two separate incidents and have fired multiple cruise missiles, representing what one U.S. defense official described as an “inexorable ramp up” in the rebels’ maritime campaign.

In addition to the latest attack, Houthis are believed to have been behind a December 3 strike on a Greek-managed tanker off the Saudi port city of Jeddah and the damaging of a Saudi Aramco petroleum products tanker on November 25.

Date Vessel Operator Incident
Dec. 12 MT Strida Singapore Cruise missile strike
Dec. 3 Nissos Kea Greece Explosive drone boat strike
Nov. 25 Al Amal Saudi Aramco Damaging explosion

U.S. Naval Forces on High Alert

The series of attacks has put U.S. naval forces on high alert across the southern Red Sea. The guided missile destroyer USS Mason took defensive action on December 11 to intercept and destroy two incoming drone boats that posed an imminent threat to vessels at the Saudi port of Yanbu. U.S. commanders called the Mason’s response “decisive action to protect maritime traffic.”

Elsewhere in the region, the USS Carney, USS Gillespie and amphibious ready groups with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been actively patrolling as part of the U.S. 5th Fleet’s response to contain threats from the Houthis.

But while naval power has so far thwarted Houthi attacks, analysts say bolder action is needed to curb the risk to global energy supplies and trade flows through Bab-al-Mandeb, which connects the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Calls Mount for Expanded Security Effort

Former military officials and policymakers are urging the Biden administration to reinforce defenses with the creation of an international naval task force devoted solely to protecting Red Sea transit.

Proponents argue that patrolling warships from the U.S and allies like France, the UK and Israel could establish a “ring of steel” against Houthi attacks that threaten Western interests, while enabling escorts for high-risk commercial traffic. Targeted sanctions and limited strikes against Houthi coastal launch sites have also been floated as part of a “layered deterrence” posture.

But the White House faces criticism for dragging its feet on major retaliation plans that could entangle the U.S. in Yemen’s civil war. With Iran potentially tied to financing Houthi attacks, some argue strikes on the rebel movement could pull the U.S. into a wider regional confrontation.

Diplomatic efforts may also be hampered by international divisions over policy toward the Houthis, who are fighting a Saudi-led coalition that has conducted its own controversial bombing campaign in Yemen.

Shipping Companies Alter Routes as Uncertainty Grows

Nonetheless, the mounting unrest is already impacting maritime flows, as ship owners opt for risk avoidance by rerouting vessels around the Red Sea danger zone.

Industry trackers say two-way transit through the Suez Canal has dropped 10 percent over the past month, suggesting ships are increasingly skirting the Red Sea to avoid exposure to attacks. Ten oil tankers and two container ships chose to sail around Africa instead of using the canal in early December, adding weeks to voyage times.

Analysts say persistent threats to shipping could have ripple effects across energy and commodities markets if traffic remains constricted. But with no signs of the Houthis relenting their assaults, vessel operators must grapple with the increasing risks of traversing the Red Sea war zone.

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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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