Houthi Militants Fire Two Missiles at Iran-Bound Bulker
For the second time in less than a week, the Houthis reported that they were targeting a bulker owned by Star Bulk of Greece calling it an “American ship.” Today’s attack was the first reported by the security services since February 6 raising hope that the U.S. and UK military efforts and behind the scenes diplomacy might be having some impact, but today’s assault left observers confused.
The Houthi spokesperson Yahya Saree in one of his taped messages claimed they had been successful in targeting a vessel he identified as the Star Iris, a 76,500 dwt Panamax bulker built in Japan in 2004. The ship is registered in the Marshall Islands, with the only connection to the United States being that its owner Star Bulk’s stock is traded on NASDAQ in the U.S.
The sources are issuing differing reports if the vessel was struck and damaged. It was approximately 40 nautical miles from Al Mukha, Yemen according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization when it was targeted just after midnight local time. UKMTO says the master reported two missiles and minor damage while Reuters quoted an unidentified person from the U.S. Defense Department saying the vessel was likely missed.
UK security consultants Ambrey reported two missiles fired about 20 minutes apart. They are saying that one struck the vessel causing some damage to the starboard side.
While the Houthi appears to be classing Star as an American company because of its stock, observers noted the vessel’s AIS shows it departed Brazil on January 12. Its declared destination is Iran. Reports are that Star regularly runs ships through the Suez Canal bound for Iran. TankerTrakers.com posted online that the vessel was carrying a cargo of corn.
"Of note, the MV Star Iris’ destination is Bandar Iman Khomeini, Iran," confirmed U.S. Central Command in a statement late Monday.
As the Houthis are seen as an Iranian proxy, it is unclear why they would target vessels bound for Iran.
Last week, the Houthis reportedly fired at the Star Nasia, a Kamsarmax bulk carrier also owned by Star. The vessel was bound for India with U.S. Central Commander reporting the vessel was repeatedly targeted over a 12-hour span. They reported three missiles were fired at the ship. Centcom said the first missile missed the ship, though the nearby blast caused minor damage. Other sources quoted the captain as describing it “like fireworks” in the sky with the reports saying some of the bridge windows had been shattered, but no injuries were reported. The second missile missed and had no effect. The third and last inbound missile was shot down by the destroyer USS Laboon.
Like the Star Iris, last week’s vessel was also registered in the Marshall Islands. It however had departed from Norfolk, Virginia, and is displaying India as its destination. Despite the claims, the security forces said there was no significant damage supported by the fact the vessel is underway in the Indian Ocean. The AIS signal shows Star Nasia arriving in India at the end of this week.
Star Bulk has not commented publicly on either attack. They referred Reuters to Centcom.