Yemen’s Houthis launch attacks on US, Israeli vessels as warships defend

New attack comes two weeks after Iran-aligned group said it targeted three vessels and a US warship.

Houthis' military spokesman Yahya Saree
Houthis' military spokesman Yahya Saree says the group's latest attack targeted a US destroyer and an Israeli vessel [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi armed group says it attacked US and Israeli vessels, with a Western coalition of warships defending amid the continuing fallout from the war on Gaza.

Yahya Saree, the group’s military spokesman, said in a video address late on Wednesday that the Houthis hit the Maersk Yorktown cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden.

The US military confirmed that the Houthis launched an antiship ballistic missile from their territory towards the vessel, which it identified as a “US-flagged, owned, and operated vessel with 18 US and four Greek crew members”.

“There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition, or commercial ships,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

The Greek Ministry of National Defence said on Thursday that one of the country’s military ships serving in the European Union’s naval mission to counter the Houthis in the Red Sea intercepted two drones launched towards a commercial ship from Yemen.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) had earlier confirmed an incident some 72 nautical miles (133km) southeast of the port of Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden.

In a statement, the UK said the Royal Navy warship HMS Diamond shot down a missile fired by Houthis from Yemen targeting a merchant vessel.

“The UK continues to be at the forefront of the international response to the Iranian-backed Houthis’ dangerous attacks on commercial vessels, which have claimed the lives of international mariners,” British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said.

Saree said the group targeted the Israeli ship MSC Veracruz in the Indian Ocean and launched projectiles at a US warship.

The US military said within two hours of the attack on the Maersk Yorktown, its forces “successfully engaged and destroyed” four drones over Yemen.

“These actions are taken to protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US, coalition, and merchant vessels,” it said.

The Houthis, who support the Palestinian armed group Hamas, have been launching attacks on vessels in waters near their shores since November in a stated claim to stop Israel’s war on Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

The group gradually expanded its attacks from Israeli-linked ships to US and UK-owned commercial vessels and warships as Washington mobilised a maritime coalition to defend against the attacks, and along with the British military targeted Yemeni soil with numerous air raids.

According to the US Maritime Administration, in addition to seizing a commercial vessel in November and sinking a UK-owned ship in March, the Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping since November.

The Houthi strikes have reduced in frequency in recent months as the group appears to have exhausted its stockpiles of missiles and drones after dozens of attacks while suffering from US and UK air raids. The previous attacks claimed by the group came on April 10, when it said it hit three US and Israeli-linked ships, along with a US warship.

The Houthi attacks have forced many vessels to opt against passing through the Red Sea to use the Suez Canal, instead going around Southern Africa, which makes their journeys weeks longer and more expensive.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies