Red Sea Tensions: Houthis Target Multiple Vessels

Recent attacks by Yemen's Houthis on vessels in the Red Sea have escalated tensions, affecting global shipping routes and drawing international concern. Here's an in-depth analysis.

Published June 29, 2024 - 00:06am

3 minutes read

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Yemen's Houthi militant group has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea. On Friday, they targeted the Liberia-flagged vessel Delonix with ballistic missiles, resulting in a direct hit, according to Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) confirmed the incident but reported that the vessel suffered no damage and continued its northward journey.

This attack is part of a broader pattern of aggression by the Iran-aligned Houthis, who claim their actions are in solidarity with Palestinians amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant Islamist group Hamas. These attacks have not been limited to the Red Sea; the Houthis also aimed at the Ioannis ship, the Waler oil tanker, and the Johannes Maersk vessel in the Mediterranean Sea. The latter was targeted due to its association with a company the Houthis accuse of supporting Israel.

International shipping has been significantly disrupted by these attacks. A report from the US military's Central Command noted a previous incident where the Trans World Navigator, a Greek-owned cargo carrier, was attacked by Houthi drones, causing minor injuries to the crew. Since November, many vessels have opted to bypass the Red Sea route to the Suez Canal, choosing instead the longer, yet safer, passage around Africa's southernmost tip.

Adding to the string of attacks, British security firm Ambrey reported another incident involving a merchant vessel hit by a projectile near Yemen's coast in the Red Sea. The vessel, located about 84 nautical miles west of Hodeidah, did not sustain any damage and safely continued to its next destination, the city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia. UKMTO described the nature of this attack as involving a waterborne improvised explosive device.

Such waterborne improvised explosive devices (WBIEDs), often remotely-controlled bomb boats, are a growing threat to maritime security in the region. These devices, sometimes disguised as small fishing vessels, have been used in previous successful attacks, including one that sank the bulker Tutor earlier this month, resulting in one fatality and forcing the crew to abandon ship. Recently, US forces have identified and destroyed three WBIEDs in the Red Sea, indicating a surge in the deployment of these dangerous devices.

Last Friday, another incident was reported by maritime security consultancies and the UKMTO. Occurring 80 nautical miles southwest of Hodeidah, the attack involved a vessel being targeted by Houthi suicide drones. The vessel and crew remained unharmed and continued to their intended port. This attack follows a pattern of increased frequency and sophistication, raising alarms among international maritime authorities and shipping companies.

The Houthis' strategic use of maritime attacks underscores the complex geopolitical tensions in the Middle East. Their alignment with Iran and solidarity with Palestinian causes situates these attacks within a broader narrative of regional proxy conflicts. The implications of these maritime threats are profound, potentially disrupting crucial shipping lanes that facilitate global trade and energy supplies.

The international community has condemned these actions, emphasizing the need for enhanced maritime security measures. Western military forces are actively investigating the circumstances surrounding these attacks, and concerted efforts are being made to mitigate risks to commercial vessels operating in or near the Red Sea.


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