Houthi Leader: Ships Should Renounce Israel or Risk Attack

AIS vessel traffic through Bab el-Mandeb (Pole Star)

Published Jan 7, 2024 9:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday, Yemen's Houthi rebel faction gave shipping interests a new option for safe passage through the Red Sea: renounce Israel in writing.

The warning is an expansion of previous Houthi demands, which first targeted Israeli-linked vessels, then grew to cover all Israel-bound vessels. 

The new demand appears to mimic an existing pattern. A small number of tankers and bulkers have begun to set the "Destination" field on their AIS transciever to send the message "vessel no contact Israel" [sic] while transiting through the Red Sea - presumably to ward off Houthi attacks.

In a social media statement Sunday, Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi said that ships wishing to pass by Yemen should adopt a more stringent formulation of this message: not just "no contact with Israel," but "no relationship with Israel." 

“Every ship that goes through the Red Sea, Bab El-Mandeb, or the Arabian Sea should broadcast the words, ‘we have no relationship with Israel," he said. “This is a simple and low-cost solution that will incur no financial expenditures for any business. This measure does not need the militarization of the Red Sea and will not jeopardize international navigation.”

Al-Houthi added that if ships send this message falsely and then visit Israel anyways, they should be blacklisted and targeted on their next voyage. 

On the same day as Al-Houthi's request, China COSCO was reported to be suspending containerized freight service to Israeli ports. The firm is the fourth-largest container carrier and the world's largest shipowner (of all vessel types). 

Call for extradition

In a separate address over the weekend, Al-Houthi said that he would be open to an indefinite state of conflict with U.S. Navy warships in the region. "Retaliatory" attacks against the U.S. Navy will continue, unless America hands over the Navy servicemembers who killed 10 Houthi attack boat personnel in combat on New Years Eve. 

That incident occurred during a response to an attempted Houthi attack on a boxship, the Maersk Hangzhou. According to Central Command, four Houthi boat crews approached to within 20 yards of the ship and opened fire. 

Maersk Hangzhou sent a distress call, and  the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the destroyer USS Gravely dispatched helicopters to the scene. The aircrews attempted to ward off the small craft with verbal warnings, but the attackers opened fire on the U.S. Navy helicopters, according to Central Command. The helicopter crews returned fire, destroying three of the boats and killing their crews.

In his remarks, Al-Houthi described the exchange of fire as "murder" and called for the American helicopter aircrews to stand trial in Yemen.