Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they have launched a drone attack targeting two cargo vessels in the Red Sea, the latest in a series of assaults that have disrupted maritime trade as freight companies seek to avoid the area.
Houthi spokesperson Yahya Sarea on Monday identified the vessels as the MSC Clara and Norwegian-owned Swan Atlantic and said the attacks were carried out after their crews failed to respond to calls from the group.
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The Swan Atlantic’s owner said the ship was struck by an unidentified object but none of the crew was hurt.
The MSC Clara is a Panama-flagged vessel, according to London Stock Exchange Group data. Details of the attack on the vessel were not immediately clear.
The Iran-backed Houthis have attacked numerous vessels over recent weeks, saying they are targeting ships in the Red Sea with links to Israel in protest against its military offensive in Gaza. The group has warned against sailing towards the area.
The attacks have caused concerns about the impact on the passage of oil, grain and other goods on what is an important global trade route, and they have pushed up the cost of insuring and shipping goods through the Red Sea.
Water tank damaged
All of the Swan Atlantic’s systems were operating normally although its water tank was damaged in the attack, said Oystein Elgan, chief executive of owner Inventor Chemical Tankers.
Inventor Chemical Tankers has no Israeli ties, Elgan said.
The vessel’s operator, Uni-Tankers, said the attack caused a small fire, which the crew brought under control, and the ship, carrying vegetable oils, continued to Reunion Island.
A British maritime authority said it had received a report of a vessel that “experienced an explosion” on its port side in an attack 24 nautical miles (44km) northwest of Yemen’s al-Makha (Mocha) port.
The vessel and crew were reported safe, it said in an advisory. The incident described by a United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) advisory was similar to the attack on the Swan Atlantic.
The UKMTO said in a separate advisory it had received a report of a vessel 24 nautical miles southeast of al-Makha that was approached by a craft with several armed people on board.
Warning shots were fired from the vessel and the craft and the armed personnel on board changed course, the advisory said.
The UKMTO said in other advisories it had received reports of an incident 63 nautical miles (117km) northwest of Djibouti and another near the Bab al-Mandeb strait, 30 nautical miles (56km) south of al-Makha.
The Houthis, who rule much of Yemen, have pledged to continue carrying out attacks until Israel halts its assault on Gaza. However, in an initial indication of possible moderation, the group said on Saturday that real steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza would contribute to “reducing the escalation”.
The threat risks disturbing the global economy. Several shipping companies have announced they will suspend all journeys through the Red Sea due to the attacks.
About 40 percent of international trade passes through the narrow strait between Yemen and northeast Africa, which leads northwards to the Red Sea, Israel’s southern port facilities and the Suez Canal.
Oil major BP temporarily paused all transit through the Red Sea citing security concerns. The alternative route for ships avoiding the Suez Canal is to take a much longer trip around Africa.
The United States announced last week that it was in talks with other countries to set up a task force to protect the trade route. An Italian source on Monday reported that the country is considering joining a naval coalition to patrol the Red Sea.