US Navy helicopters destroy Houthi boats in Red Sea after attempted hijackon December 31, 2023 at 10:01 am

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The US military says it was responding to a second attack on the same vessel near Yemen in 24 hours.

Guided missile destroyer USS Gravely in the Arabian Gulf, Dec. 5, 2023Image source, US Navy

A US warship has shot down two missiles fired from Yemen, after responding to a call for aid from a container ship that had been struck in the Red Sea.

The anti-ship missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas as the destroyers Gravely and Laboon responded, the US military said.

A US Navy admiral told AP it is the first successful strike since a global patrol was launched on 18 December.

The Houthis have been attacking ships in the Red Sea since November.

The Iranian-backed Yemeni rebel group have claimed its attacks on the the vital shipping lane are directed at vessels linked to Israel, in response to the war in Gaza.

The commercial ship attacked, the Maersk Hangzhou, is registered to Singapore and operated and owned by a Danish firm, US Central Command (Centcom) said in a statement.

Centcom said while the ships were responding to the distress call, two anti-ship missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas at the pair of US navy vessels.

The USS Gravely destroyed the inbound ballistic missiles, Centcom said, adding it was the twenty-third “illegal attack by the Houthis on international shipping” since 19 November.

Centcom added the Maersk Hangzhou is “reportedly seaworthy and there are no reported injuries” on board.

Separately, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) organisation reported an incident in the Red Sea about 55 nautical miles (101km) to the south-west of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.

In a statement, the organisation said an unidentified ship had reported “a loud bang accompanied by a flash on the port bow of the vessel” and several explosions.

No damage was recorded and all members of the crew were reported unhurt, with the vessel escaping the area to a nearby port, the statement said.

The rise in Houthi attacks over several weeks has led to many shipping firms diverting their vessels away from the Red Sea, travelling around the horn of Africa instead.

To reach the Suez Canal in Egypt – which connects to the Mediterranean Sea – ships must pass through the tiny Bab al-Mandab Strait, just off the coast of Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen.

The Tehran-sponsored rebels have previously claimed to only target “Israel-linked” commercial ships in response to the war in Gaza, saying the attacks are an attempt to stop Israeli attacks on Palestinians.

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In response, the US launched Operation Prosperity Guardian – an international coalition to safeguard shipping in the the region.

In an interview with the Associated Press, US Navy Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said the Houthis do not seem to be ending their “reckless” attacks in light of the maritime taskforce.

He added that 1,200 commercial ships have passed through the Red Sea since the operation was launched, with none hit by drone or missile strikes until Saturday.

Maersk said last week that it was preparing to resume journeys through Red Sea – after diverting to the much longer route around the Cape of Good Hope because of recent Houthi attacks on shipping.

The Red Sea is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes as it links markets in Europe with Asia.

Analysts have warned the attacks could see a rise in prices, as it is also one of the most important routes for oil and liquefied natural gas shipments produced in the Middle East.

A map showing the Bab al-Mandab strait, which sits between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea on the African coast.
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