By Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press on January 15, 2024.
JERUSALEM (AP) – A missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels struck a U.S.-owned ship Monday just off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden, less than a day after Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired an anti-ship cruise missile toward an American destroyer in the Red Sea, officials said.
The attack on the Gibraltar Eagle, though not immediately claimed by the Houthis, further escalates tensions gripping the Red Sea after American-led strikes on the rebels. The Houthis’ attacks have roiled global shipping, amid Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, targeting a crucial corridor linking Asian and Mideast energy and cargo shipments to the Suez Canal onward to Europe.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which oversees Mideast waters, said Monday’s attack happened some 110 miles (177 kilometers) miles southeast of Aden. It said the ship’s captain reported that the “port side of vessel hit from above by a missile.”
Private security firms Ambrey and Dryad Global told The Associated Press that the vessel was the Eagle Gibraltar, a Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier. The U.S. military’s Central Command later acknowledged the strike, blaming the Houthis for the assault.
“The ship has reported no injuries or significant damage and is continuing its journey,” Central Command said.
The ship is owned by Eagle Bulk, a Stamford, Connecticut-based firm traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The firm did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Satellite-tracking data analyzed by the AP showed the Eagle Gibraltar had been bound for the Suez Canal, but rapidly turned around at the time of the attack.
Sunday’s missile launch toward the American warship also marked the first U.S.-acknowledged fire by the Houthis since America and allied nations began strikes Friday on the rebels following weeks of assaults on shipping in the Red Sea.
The Houthi fire in the direction of the USS Laboon, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer operating in the southern reaches of the Red Sea, Central Command said.
The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge that attack either.
The missile came from near Hodeida, a Red Sea port city long held by the Houthis, the U.S. said.
“An anti-ship cruise missile was fired from Iranian-backed Houthi militant areas of Yemen toward USS Laboon,” Central Command said. “There were no injuries or damage reported.”
It wasn’t presently clear whether the U.S. would retaliate for the latest attacks, though President Joe Biden has said he “will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”
The first day of U.S.-led strikes Friday hit 28 locations and struck more than 60 targets with cruise missiles and bombs launched by fighter jets, warships and a submarine. Sites hit included weapon depots, radars and command centers, including in remote mountain areas, the U.S. has said.
The Houthis have yet to acknowledge how severe the damage was from the strikes, which they said killed five of their troops and wounded six others.
U.S. forces followed up with a strike Saturday on a Houthi radar site.
Shipping through the Red Sea has slowed over the attacks. The U.S. Navy on Friday warned American-flagged vessels to steer clear of areas around Yemen in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for 72 hours after the initial airstrikes.
For their part, the Houthis alleged without providing evidence that the U.S. struck a site near Hodeida on Sunday around the same time as the cruise missile fire. The Americans and the United Kingdom did not acknowledge conducting any strike – suggesting the blast may have been from a misfiring Houthi missile.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea, saying they were avenging Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade.
Even the leader of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group, Hassan Nasrallah, obliquely referenced the widening Houthi attacks on ships in a speech Sunday, saying that “the sea has become a battlefield of missiles, drones and warships” and blaming the U.S. strikes for escalating maritime tensions.
“The most dangerous thing is what the Americans did in the Red Sea, (it) will harm the security of all maritime navigation,” Nasrallah said.
Though the Biden administration and its allies have tried to calm tensions in the Middle East for weeks and prevent any wider conflict, the strikes in the Red Sea threaten to ignite one.
It’s also affecting shipping for the Middle East nation of Qatar, one of the world’s top natural gas suppliers. Three liquid natural gas tankers that had recently loaded in Qatar and were bound for the Suez Canal remain idling off Oman, while another coming from Europe to Qatar remains off Saudi Arabia. QatarEnergy and government officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Saudi Arabia, which supports the Yemeni government-in-exile that the Houthis are fighting, sought to distance itself from the attacks on Houthi sites as it tries to maintain a delicate détente with Iran and a cease-fire it has in Yemen. The Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war in Yemen that began in 2015 has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, killing tens of thousands more.
The American military did not specifically say the fire targeted the Laboon, following a pattern by the U.S. since the Houthi attacks began. However, U.S. sailors have received combat ribbons for their actions in the Red Sea – something handed out only to those who face active hostilities with an enemy force.
Associated Press writers Samy Magdy in Cairo, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.