Houthis Launch Largest Attack Yet on Merchant Shipping

The destroyer USS Carney responds to a Houthi attack, December 2023 (USN file image)
The destroyer USS Carney responds to a Houthi attack, December 2023 (USN file image)

Published Jan 10, 2024 2:11 AM by The Maritime Executive

On Tuesday night, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels launched a massive attack on international shipping in the Red Sea, defying a series of warnings from the U.S, the UK and a small number of international partners. 

According to U.S. Central Command, Houthi militants launched a combination of antiship missiles, suicide drone UAVs and anti-ship ballistic missiles towards the shipping lanes, beginning at about 2115 hours. Dozens of merchant ships were in the area affected. 

The U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy took up the response. F/A-18 attack fighters from the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower launched to intercept some of the aerial threats, and the crews of the destroyers USS Gravely, USS Laboon, USS Mason and HMS Diamond took down the others.

In all, the combined force destroyed eighteen suicide drones, two anti-ship missiles and one ballistic missile. An American military official told Fox News that it is believed to be the largest Houthi attack since the militant group's campaign began in November. 

Security consultancy Ambrey reported that merchant ships in the affected area were advised to "proceed at maximum speed" during the attack. No injuries or combat damage were reported, and AIS data showed large volumes of marine traffic moving smoothly through the waterway early Wednesday. 

The group's latest attack defied a final warning that the White House and a small coalition of partners issued on January 3. 

"The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways. We remain committed to the international rules-based order and are determined to hold malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks," the coalition warned at the time. 

As of late Tuesday, the White House had not yet commented on the group's ongoing attacks or any possible response measures.