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12 Nations Threaten to Hold Houthis Accountable for Red Sea Attacks

Houthi fighters advance along the top deck of the hijacked ship Galaxy Leader (Houthi Military Media)
Houthi fighters advance along the top deck of the hijacked ship Galaxy Leader (Houthi Military Media)

Published Jan 3, 2024 6:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

11 nations have joined with the United States to send a final warning to Yemen's Houthi militant faction, which has attacked Red Sea shipping two dozen times since November. The small coalition warned that the attacks are "illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing," and that the Houthis themselves would be responsible for the consequences if they continue to target international shipping. 

The co-signers included the UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Singapore. Bahrain, the host of U.S. 5th Fleet and one of America's closest allies in the Middle East, was the only nation from the region to join the statement. 

"Attacks on vessels, including commercial vessels, using unmanned aerial vehicles, small boats, and missiles, including the first use of anti-ship ballistic missiles against such vessels, are a direct threat to the freedom of navigation," the partners said. "We call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews.  The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce."

Several nations were notably absent, including Egypt, which depends on Red Sea ship traffic for much-needed Suez Canal toll income; Saudi Arabia, whose oil and cargo ports on the Red Sea have been affected; and China, which has a deep economic interest in the core east-west shipping lane.

In a second joint statement, shipping associations WCS, BIMCO and ICS joined in thanking the signatories. "On behalf of our members and their seafarers and customers throughout the world, the organizations thank these 12 nations for their strong commitment to defending rules-based international order and to holding malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks," the industry associations said. 

Differences of opinion at UN Security Council

In New York, the UN Security Council met Wednesday to talk about the Houthi threat, and differences of opinion cropped up quickly. 

The U.S. and UK reiterated their call for the Houthi forces to cease and desist, adding that Iran - the rebel group's foreign sponsor - needs to restrain its proxy force in Yemen. 

However, Russia's representative held Israel responsible for the Houthi attacks on shipping. "What is happening in the Red Sea is a direct projection of the violence in Gaza, where Israel’s bloody operation has been ongoing for three months," said Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, echoing the Houthi political rationale for the attacks on shipping. 

Nebenzia said that a ceasefire in Gaza would resolve the problems in the Red Sea, and he sharply criticized Western "hot-heads" for their efforts to combat the Houthi security risk. 

"Washington's so-called 'international maritime coalition,' as far as we can tell, is in fact just military vessels from the U.S., and its justification under international law is in serious doubt," the Russian ambassador said.