Explosions Near Maltese-Flagged Vessel in the Red Sea

Red Sea explosion
Map showing the location of the reported explosions near merchant ships in the Red Sea (UKMTO)

Published Jan 2, 2024 5:55 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Houthis staged a late-day assault on an unidentified vessel near the Bab el-Mandeb in the Red Sea on January 2 with the authorities reporting that none of the nearby merchant ships were damaged. Details are still emerging on this latest incident which came after a lull since 10 Houthi fighters were killed by the United States on Sunday when they were attempting to board a Maersk containership and shot at American helicopters. Houthi officials pledged to avenge the U.S. actions which killed their fighters.

Today’s attack came later in the day than is normal but appears to have happened shortly after the unconfirmed reports from Lebanon that Israel killed one of the top Hamas leaders during a meeting taking place south of Beirut. Reuters is quoting the Lebanese national news agency saying that four Palestinians and three Lebanese Suni militia leaders were killed in a drone attack, which would be the first outside Gaza since the war against Hamas began in October. 

The UK Maritime Trade Organizations posted an alert saying it had received information of three explosions happening between one and five nautical miles from a merchant vessel in the Bab el-Mandeb. The position is reported to be approximately 33 nautical miles to the east of Assab, Eritrea. Other reports place it about 10 to 15 miles from Yemen with reports saying the missiles were fired from territory in Yemen.

Several vessels were reported to be in the same general area at the time of the attack, with British security firm Ambrey saying that “a nearby vessel reported seeing a small boat with two lights within one mile of the incident location,” soon after the explosions. 

The U.S. Centcom on Sunday confirmed that four small boats were approaching the Maersk Hangzhou and attempting to board the ship when the private security embarked on the ship began shooting. These incidents mark a further escalation as recently there had not been any sightings of the small vessels. Previously, the Houthis used the boats to attempt to contact the merchant ships to order them to change direction to Yemen.

The Houthis have repeatedly pledged to support Hamas by targeting Israeli vessels or ships it believes are trading with Israel. Ambrey analyzing today’s incident says that the targeted ship did not appear to have any association with Israel but the unidentified shipping company’s other vessels have called in Israeli ports. A spokesperson for the Houthi in a televised address later claimed they had targeted the CMA CGM Tage (177,000 dwt / 9,200 TEU) but the shipping company told Reuters its vessel was not "involved" in an incident and was proceeding to Egypt. The Houthi said they targeted CMA CGM because its ships in general call in Israeli ports.

Centcom had previously said over 100 missiles and drones have been launched against shipping in the region. UKMTO numbered the attack on the Maersk ship as the 24th incident in 2023 and with the new year they reset the counter, making this missile launch the 25th overall reported to the UK.