US shoots down ‘aerial vehicle’ launched from Yemen’s Houthi-held area

Missiles fired from Houthi-controlled Yemen also targeted the vessel.

A boat carries people as a Houthi fighter keeps watch on the deck of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship
Yemen's Houthi rebels have threatened to target any vessel going to or coming from Israel amid the Gaza war [Yahya Arhab/EPA]

The United States Central Command says it shot down an “aerial vehicle” launched from an area controlled by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group in response to a mayday call from a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker in the Red Sea.

Houthi rebels first attacked and attempted to board the Ardmore Encounter commercial tanker in the southern Red Sea on Wednesday before a series of missiles targeted the vessel, CENTCOM said on Thursday.

CENTCOM said one of its navy destroyers, the USS Mason, responded to the distress call from the Ardmore Encounter at 8:30am on Wednesday (05:30 GMT) as Houthi forces “attempted to board the tanker via skiffs”.

“When this was unsuccessful, a pair of missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen at the vessel, which both missed,” CENTCOM posted on X.

“The Mason shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle also launched from Houthi-controlled areas … There were no injuries to personnel and no damage to any vessels. The Ardmore Encounter was able to proceed without further incident,” it added.

The Houthis’ reported attack on the Ardmore Encounter would be their sixth assault on vessels in the region amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, as they say they will target any vessel travelling to or from Israel.

The Ardmore Encounter was carrying Indian-manufactured jet fuel, heading for either Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Gavle, Sweden, its owner Ardmore Shipping Corp said. The tanker was coming from Mangaluru (also known as Mangalore) in southern India and had an armed security crew on board.

The Houthis did not immediately comment on Wednesday’s attacks.

But on Tuesday, Houthi official Mohammed Ali al-Houthi warned cargo ships in the Red Sea to avoid travelling towards Israel and to promptly respond to any Houthi attempts to contact them.

Al-Houthi also warned vessels against “falsifying their identity” or raising flags different from the country belonging to the cargo ship owner.

The Houthis’ attacks in vital shipping lanes, as well as their firing of drones and missiles at Israel from more than 1,600km (1,000 miles) away, have raised fears of regional escalation from the Gaza war and jeopardised cargo shipments.

Ardmore Shipping on Wednesday confirmed that its ship had been targeted, but said no one was injured and the vessel was “fully operational”, The Associated Press news agency reported.

British maritime security company Ambrey also said in a note that a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker reported an “exchange of fire” with a speedboat some 102km (63 miles) from Yemen’s coastal city of Hodeidah, according to the Reuters news agency.

The boat, hailed by an entity claiming to be the Yemeni Navy, approached the tanker and began firing some 300 metres (985 feet) away.

Ambrey said the speedboat next approached a Malta-flagged bulk carrier 52 nautical miles (96km) off Hodeidah’s shores.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, earlier reported a separate incident off the coast of Oman. It said a vessel had been followed by five to six boats carrying machineguns and men in grey uniforms, before escaping unharmed.

The unrest in the coastal waters came just a day after the Houthis said they had hit a Norwegian tanker in the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

The Norwegian-owned and operated ship, Strinda, was struck on Monday night as it passed through the strait, which separates East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

The rebel group said it targeted that ship because it was delivering crude oil to an Israeli terminal.

The owner of the vessel said the ship was on its way to Italy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies