Houthis Damage Bulker and Target US Warships as Italy Downs Drone

Red Sea escort
Armée Française providing escorts in the Red Sea region (file photo from Armée Française)

Published Apr 29, 2024 11:38 AM by The Maritime Executive


Security services in the Red Sea are reporting another attack on a merchant ship in a matter of days by the Houthi. It comes as a newly arrived Italian frigate took down a drone while it was performing escort duty and the U.S. Central Command reported renewed downing of launches from the Houthi. There also was a suspicious approach yesterday in the same region.

The UK Maritime Trade Organizations received a report today of an explosion near an unnamed vessel. According to the monitoring operation, the company’s security officer informed them of the explosion 54 nautical miles northwest of Al Mukha, Yemen, which would be in a similar area to the attacks last Friday on two tankers. UKMTO said the vessel and its crew were reported safe but later updated the report with information from the security officer saying the vessel is damaged without providing details.

UK security consultancy Ambrey initially speculated that it was a containership flagged in Malta. They reported the vessel was sailing from Djibouti to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Ambrey believes the vessel was targeted due to an association with Israel and said the attack may have consisted of three missiles launched by the Houthi.

The French shipping company CMA CGM denied to the Associated Press the reports that it was one of its vessels. They confirmed the CMA CGM Manta Ray (68,000 dwt) was in the region but said the vessel was still in Djibouti at the time of the attack. The vessel’s AIS signal shows it is due in Saudi Arabia on May 1. CMA CGM lists the vessel as built in 2008 and with a capacity of 1,100 TEU.

A Houthi spokesperson late today took credit for the attack on a Greek-owned bulker named Cyclade (60,000 dwt). It is registered in Malta and was built in 2017. They are asserting that it had called at the banned Israeli port of Eliat on April 21. The statement claims the vessel hid its true destination showing that it was heading to an alternate port. They also said they targeted two U.S. warships in the Red Sea. Furthermore, they asserted that they targeted the MSC Orion (158,000 dwt) containership registered in Portugal. The statement said the vessel was in the Indian Ocean which is consistent with its AIS signal showing it departing Oman yesterday.

Late this morning the Italian frigate Virginio Fasan also reported downing a drone from Yemen. The vessel which was commissioned in 2013 had recently arrived in the region to take over as the flagship of EU NAVFOR Aspides. While German, Denmark, and Belgium have withdrawn their vessels, Aspides highlights Italy has sent a new frigate, which is taking over as the new flagship of the operation. Italy's Duilio had been leading the operation.

Italy's Ministry of Defense said the drone was about three miles away when they took it down as they believed it was heading for an unnamed merchant ship that they were escorting. They also said, "A missile exploded in the water in the vicinity of the escorted vessel, causing only minor superficial damage."

In the early hours of Sunday morning local time, U.S. CENTCOM also reported its forces engaged five airborne unmanned aerial vehicles UAV over the Red Sea. They were all reportedly taken down. On Sunday, UKMTO also received a report that a small boat had approached a merchant vessel underway approximately 177 nautical miles south of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. The vessel took evasive actions and the small boat did not follow, but it was unclear if it was the Houthi or Somali pirates. At the end of last week, the EU force warned that pirate groups were still active in the area.

The Houthis resumed their attacks last week after a pause claiming they had targeted two MSC vessels and a Maersk Line vessel that operates under charter to the U.S. to transport military supplies. None of those vessels were hit. The Houthi however reported the attacks as “successful.”

On Friday, the Houthi targeted two tankers with reports that they caused minor damage to the Andromeda Star. The vessel is a shadow tanker although the Houthi claimed the vessel’s ultimate ownership is in the UK.

The Indian Navy through its spokesperson on social media reported that its destroyer Kochi had responded to the incident involving the attack on the Panama-flagged crude oil tanker. The Indian Navy intercepted the tanker, which they reported had 30 crew, including 22 Indian nationals, and did an aerial assessment. A team from the Indian Navy also boarded the tanker to undertake a “residual risk assessment.” They said the vessel was deemed safe and continued its trip, which other reports said was transporting Russian oil to India.