Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for a missile attack on a Malta-flagged cargo ship in the Red Sea as the United States says it has launched a new strike on Houthi targets amid soaring tensions around the key waterway.
“A Malta-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier was reportedly targeted and impacted with a missile while transiting the southern Red Sea northbound,” the maritime risk management company Ambrey said in an alert on Tuesday.
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The Houthis’ military spokesperson, Yahya Sarea, said in a statement that the Yemeni rebels targeted the Zografia ship with naval missiles on Tuesday as it was heading to Israel, resulting in a “direct hit”.
There were no reports of injuries. The vessel had been heading north to the Suez Canal when it was attacked, the Greek Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the US military said it launched a new strike against the Houthis, hitting anti-ship missiles in the third assault on the Iran-backed group in recent days.
According to a US Central Command statement, the strike destroyed four Houthi ballistic missiles that were prepared to launch and presented an imminent threat to merchant and US navy ships in the region.
The Houthi attack on the Zografia involved an anti-ship ballistic missile, the statement said, adding that the ship continued its Red Sea transit after being hit and saying it remained seaworthy.
The Iran-backed Houthis have attacked what they say are Israel-linked commercial vessels since November, disrupting maritime trade routes. The Houthis say the attacks are a response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
The group has threatened to expand the range of targets of its attacks in the Red Sea to include US ships in response to American and British strikes on its sites in Yemen.
On Sunday, US forces shot down a Houthi cruise missile targeting a US destroyer, and on Monday, a US-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman was hit by a missile.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra said the tensions in the Red Sea could “degenerate into something bigger, particularly the potential of war for an Iranian-American confrontation in Yemen”.
“We’re talking about an extremely delicate situation in the Red Sea,” Ahelbarra said.
Earlier, Qatar’s prime minister said liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments would be affected by Red Sea tensions and warned that the strikes on Yemen risk worsening the crisis.
“LNG is … as any other merchant shipments. They will be affected by that [exchange with the Houthis],” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“There are alternative routes. Those alternative routes are not more efficient; they’re less efficient than the current route,” he added.
On Monday, the Bloomberg news agency reported that at least five LNG vessels used by Qatar had stopped on their way to the Red Sea.
“[Military intervention] will not bring an end for this, will not contain it. So the contrary, I think [it] will create … a further escalation,” the prime minister added.