Houthi rebels claim responsibility for attack that forced UK crew to abandon ship in Red Sea

A missile attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels damaged a UK-registered ship travelling through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, forcing the crew to abandon the ship.

The attack on the ship came as the US military acknowledged that it had conducted new airstrikes targeting the rebels, including one that targeted the first Houthi underwater drone seen since the rebels began launching their attacks on shipping in November.

On Monday the EU launched a naval mission to help protect cargo ships in the Red Sea.

The ship targeted in the Houthi attack on Sunday reported that it had sustained damage after “an explosion in close proximity to the vessel”, United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported.

“Military authorities report crew have abandoned the vessel,” UKMTO said. “Vessel at anchor and all crew are safe.”

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip


Brigadier General Yahya Saree, the military spokesperson for the Houthis, issued a statement claiming the attack, saying the vessel was “now at risk of potentially sinking”.

“The ship suffered catastrophic damages and came to a complete halt,” he said. “During the operation, we made sure that the ship’s crew exited safely.”

The Iran-backed Houthis also claimed they had shot down an American MQ-9 Reaper drone, but this was not immediately acknowledged by US forces in the region.

The private security firm Ambrey reported that the British-registered, Lebanese-operated cargo ship involved in the attack had been on its way to Bulgaria after leaving Khorfakkan in the United Arab Emirates.

Ship-tracking data from identified the vessel targeted as the Rubymar. Its Beirut-based manager could not immediately be reached for comment. The Houthis later also identified the ship as the Rubymar.

A Houthi fighter holds a machine gun in front of scout team members carrying Yemeni and Palestinian flags


Ambrey described the ship as being partially laden with cargo, but the nature of what it was carrying was not clear. The ship had turned off its automatic identification system (AIS) tracker while in the Persian Gulf early this month.

Later on Monday, the UKMTO and Ambrey said a second vessel had come under attack in the Gulf of Aden. Ambrey described the vessel as a Greek-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier bound for Aden in Yemen, carrying grain from Argentina. The same ship then came under attack again later in the day.

Those details, combined with ship-tracking data, identified the vessel as the Sea Champion. Its managers could not immediately be reached. The Houthis did not claim the attack straight away, though it often takes the rebels several hours to acknowledge one of their assaults.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters in protest at Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, putting in danger shipping on a key route for trade between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor.

Meanwhile, the US military’s Central Command reported it had carried out five airstrikes against Houthi military equipment. The strikes targeted mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, an explosive-carrying drone boat, and an “unmanned underwater vessel”, Central Command said, adding: “This is the first observed Houthi employment of a UUV since attacks began in October 23.”

The EU’s naval mission to help protect cargo ships from the attacks by the rebels, which continue to threaten maritime traffic, hamper trade and drive up prices, is dubbed Aspides, from the Greek word for shield.

Students stand under a Palestinian flag during a rally in solidarity with the Palestinian people, at Sana’a University, in Sana’a, Yemen, on 14 February


The mission will be run out of Larissa in central Greece – home to the Hellenic air force as well as a Nato headquarters – under the command of Commodore Vasilios Griparis.

The EU mission will not take part in any military strikes and will operate only at sea.

“Within its defensive mandate, the operation will provide maritime situational awareness, accompany vessels, and protect them against possible multi-domain attacks at sea,” EU headquarters said in a statement after the bloc’s foreign ministers had endorsed the mission.

“The entire global economy is being hit. It’s not just European ships that are repeatedly jeopardised by Houthi missiles in the Red Sea, but the entire international shipping industry,” German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said in Brussels.

She said that apart from protecting European ships, the mission “makes it clear that we as an international community stand together in the face of attacks; terrorist attacks on the freedom of the sea lanes”.

Germany is contributing a frigate to the mission, as is Belgium.

Associated Press

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