March 3rd, 2024

Qatar says gas shipments affected by Houthi assaults as US-flagged vessels attacked off Yemen

By Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press on January 24, 2024.

This is a locator map for Yemen with its capital, Sanaa. (AP Photo)

JERUSALEM (AP) – Qatar, one of the world’s top exporters of liquified natural gas, warned Wednesday that its deliveries were affected by ongoing attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels on shipping over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The statement by QatarEnergy came as an explosion struck near two U.S.-flagged ships carrying cargo for the American government Wednesday in a crucial strait near Yemen, though no damage or injuries were reported. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion immediately fell on the Houthis.

Ships carrying liquified natural gas from Qatar had been delayed previously before heading through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. That’s where the Houthi attacks have snarled shipping in a key route for Asia and the Middle East to ship cargo and energy to Europe.

Qatar, which has served as a key mediator between Hamas and Israel, has yet to see any of its ships attacked, however. A statement from its state-owned QatarEnergy producer said that its “production continues uninterrupted, and our commitment to ensuring the reliable supply of LNG to our customers remains unwavering.”

“While the ongoing developments in the Red Sea area may impact the scheduling of some deliveries as they take alternative routes, LNG shipments from Qatar are being managed with our valued buyers,” the statement said.

The statement suggests QatarEnergy’s cargos now are traveling around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, likely adding time to their trips.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, an organization monitoring Mideast waterways overseen by the British military, reported a blast Wednesday near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen.

The explosion happened some 100 meters (325 feet) from a vessel, but caused no damage and its crew is safe, the British said.

The Houthis, who have been launching attacks on ships since November over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

Danish shipper Maersk, in a statement to The Associated Press, identified two of its vessels nearby the blast – the U.S.-flagged container ships Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake. It said the U.S. Navy was accompanying its ships at the time.

“While en route, both ships reported seeing explosions close by and the U.S. Navy accompaniment also intercepted multiple projectiles,” Maersk said. “The crew, ship, and cargo are safe and unharmed. The U.S. Navy has turned both ships around and is escorting them back to the Gulf of Aden.”

Maersk said both vessels carried cargo belonging to the U.S. Defense and State Departments, as well as other government agencies, meaning they were “afforded the protection of the U.S. Navy for passage through the strait.”

The ships were operated by Maersk Line, a U.S. subsidiary of Maersk that is “suspending transits in the region until further notice,” the company said.

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.

The U.S. and the U.K. have launched rounds of airstrikes targeting suspected missile storage and launch sites used by the Houthis in their attacks. The rebels now say they’ll target American and British ships as well.

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