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Houthi Forces Damage "Chinese" Tanker With Ballistic Missile Strike

Houthi missiles on parade
Courtesy Houthi Military Media

Published Mar 24, 2024 3:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

Despite reports of a safe-passage agreement between the Chinese government and Yemen's Houthi rebels, the militant group has launched multiple ballistic missiles at a tanker owned by a Hong Kong-based holding company, according to U.S. forces. 

In the early hours of Sunday morning, Iranian-backed Houthi militants launched four anti-ship ballistic missiles into the Red Sea near the merchant vessel Huang Pu, a Panamanian-flagged, Chinese-owned, Chinese-operated crude oil tanker.

At 1625 hours local time, a fifth ballistic missile was launched toward the Huang Pu. The ship issued a distress call but did not request assistance, Central Command said. Huang Pu suffered some minor damage from the fifth and final missile attack, and a fire broke out on board. The crew extinguished it within 30 minutes. No casualties were reported, and the tanker continued on its commercial voyage. 

The U.S. military noted that the Houthis had previously announced that they would not attack Chinese vessels, but later decided to launch missiles at Huang Pu anyways.  

Up until January 2024, Huang Pu was named the Anavatos II, and its then-owner and shipmanager shared an address in the United Kingdom. It has been widely suggested that Houthi forces have mistakenly identified the vessel as a UK-linked ship - one of the Houthis' preferred nationalities for targeting - because they used outdated information. 

In its Equasis record, Huang Pu is currently owned and operated by a new holding company in Hong Kong, Hera Gam Ltd., which has only one vessel. 

U.S. Central Command described the tanker as "Chinese," and multiple media outlets have verified this statement using the Hong Kong address in Huang Pu's Equasis record. However, any entity of any nationality may create an anonymous company in Hong Kong, then use it as a listed shipowner of record. The ease and speed of registration make the region a preferred global jurisdiction for shell companies, both for Chinese and foreign interests. Without more information, the nationality of the ultimate beneficial owner cannot be verified. 

The Houthi group's military spokesman, Yahya Saree, has not released a statement on the reason for the Huang Pu attack. 

On the same morning as the attack on Huang Pu, USS Carney engaged six Houthi drones over the Red Sea, shooting down five. The surviving drone flew back to safety in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. Central Command assessed that the drones posed an imminent threat to U.S. forces and merchant shipping.