Houthis Launch Missiles at Another Red Sea Commercial Shipment
Houthis Launch Missiles at Another Red Sea Commercial Shipment

By Ryan Morgan

The Islamist Houthi rebel forces in Yemen have claimed responsibility for an attack on a commercial ship on Tuesday, continuing a trend of attacks on international shipments throughout the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

On Tuesday, Houthi forces spokesman Yahya Saree announced in a post on the X social media app that Houthi sea forces conducted a missile attack targeting the Mediterranean Shipping Company container ship MSC United.

Mr. Saree claimed the Houthi side had issued multiple warnings to the crew of MSC United before the attack, but the merchant ship’s crew ignored the warnings.

The Mediterranean Shipping Company confirmed the Tuesday attack in a statement it shared with Bloomberg News. The shipping company said all of the ship’s crew members are safe and uninjured, though the company is carrying out a damage assessment following the missile attack.

The MSC United was en route to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia at the time of the Tuesday attack.

In addition to attacking the MSC United, Mr. Saree said Houthi forces had also launched drone and missile attacks targeting the Israeli Red Sea port city of Eilat on Tuesday.

The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, are a Zaydi Shiite movement that has intermittently fought with Yemen’s internationally recognized government since 2004. The conflict expanded after the Houthis took over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in September 2014, bringing on a civil war that has seen Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states intervene on behalf of the Yemeni government. They are also widely believed to be backed by Iran, with the Trump administration designating the Houthis as a terrorist group in its closing days before the Biden administration reversed the designation shorty after.

While the Yemeni civil war has died down in recent months with efforts at a ceasefire in Yemen, the Houthi movement has shifted its military focus toward the ongoing fighting in the Gaza Strip between the Israeli military and the Hamas terrorist group. The Houthi rebel forces have launched multiple drone and missile attacks toward Israel, and have begun to attack Israel-linked merchant vessels in the Red Sea, in solidarity with Hamas.

Houthi fighters executed a helicopter-borne assault on the Bahamas-flagged cargo ship, MV Galaxy Leader on Nov. 20, hijacking the ship in the Red Sea and taking its 25 crew members hostage. This month, Mr. Saree claimed Houthi responsibility for launching a missile that hit the Norwegian-flagged tanker ship Strinda, which reportedly caused a fire but no casualties.

This pattern of Houthi attacks has already caused major international shipping firms like Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd to pause some of their traffic through the Red Sea and reroute ships around the southern end of Africa.

In his Tuesday press statement, Mr. Saree said the Houthi side will continue to target Israeli ports and maritime shipping as part of a pressure campaign he alleges is to allow more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

US-Led Red Sea Security Operation Still Taking Shape

Tuesday’s Houthi attacks come a week after the United States announced and began gathering support for an international maritime security mission, dubbed “Operation Prosperity Guardian.”

The Department of Defense has claimed around 20 nations have joined the U.S.-led Red Sea maritime security mission, but there have been some reported disagreements among allies about participation.

As of last week, the British navy said it would commit the destroyer HMS Diamond to Operation Prosperity Guardian. Greece indicated it would also contribute a frigate to the U.S.-led mission.

France, Italy, and Spain, on the other hand, have indicated they do not want to subordinate their naval assets and personnel to the U.S.-led mission.

France’s defense ministry said it supported efforts to secure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and surrounding area and said it already has naval forces operating in the region. But, the French Defense Ministry said its ships would stay under French command and did not say if it would deploy more naval forces to the region.

Italy’s defense ministry said the Italian navy would deploy its frigate, Virginio Fasan, to the Red Sea to respond to specific requests for support from Italian ship operators, but said this would be part of an existing regional security operation rather Operation Prosperity Guardian.

Spain’s defense ministry said its naval forces would only participate in Red Sea maritime security operations organized through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), or the European Union.

As of last week, Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, and Denmark had offered to send a handful of personnel to assist Operation Prosperity Guardian, but no additional warships. Australia has committed 11 personnel to the U.S.-led effort, Norway 10, the Netherlands two, and Denmark one.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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