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Houthi Drone Hits American-Owned MI-Flagged Ship, Causing Fire

GENCO Picardy's last received AIS position in the Red Sea, January 15 (Pole Star)
GENCO Picardy's last received AIS position in the Red Sea, January 15 (Pole Star)

Published Jan 17, 2024 3:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

[Updated] The UKMTO has received a report of an attack on a merchant ship at a position about 60 nautical miles southeast of the Yemeni port city of Aden, in the middle of the western Gulf of Aden. 

The ship's master reported that the vessel had been hit on the port side by an aerial drone (UAV). The strike caused a fire on board, which the crew successfully extinguished. The vessel and the crew are safe, according to UKMTO, and are proceeding to their next port of call. 

"Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO," the consortium advised.

Yemen's Houthi rebels have attacked shipping in the vicinity of Bab el-Mandeb dozens of times since November. In a statement on social media, Houthi spokesman Yahya Saree claimed responsibility for the attack and said that the vessel was the Marshall Islands-flagged bulker GENCO Picardy. The ship's owner and commercial manager is based in New York, its technical manager is located in India, and its flag registry is administered in Virginia. 

"The naval forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces carried out a targeting operation against the American ship (GENCO Picardy) in the Gulf of Aden with a several of adequate naval missiles [sic], leaving direct hits. The Yemeni armed forces will not hesitate to target all sources of threat in the Arab and Red Seas within the legitimate right to defend dear Yemen and to continue supporting the oppressed Palestinian people," he said. 

U.S. Central Command confirmed the attack on the Picardy in a statement late Wednesday, and said that it was a single one-way attack drone originating from Yemeni territory. 

GENCO Picardy's AIS signal was last received by Pole Star satellite tracking in the southern Red Sea, on the opposite side of Houthi-controlled territory from the attack location. Last week the vessel had been headed southbound towards Bab el-Mandeb, but on January 15 it doubled back to a position north of 18 N, as recommended by the U.S. Maritime Administration. At that point, its signal disappeared from tracking (image at top).  

A GENCO employee declined to comment.

The Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) security partnership has advised all civilian shipping to stay well clear of Bab el-Mandeb and the Red Sea, but the shorter Suez route remains in use for many shipping firms. Major operators like Shell, Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and others have abandoned the route, and almost all container ships are diverting around the Cape of Good Hope. 

[This story is evolving and will be updated as new information comes in.]