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Houthis Step Up Attacks Hitting Second Ship and Possibly Downing US Drone

Danish frigate
Danish frigate will likely join the EU mission due to launch in the coming weeks (Danish Defense)

Published Feb 19, 2024 4:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

The Houthis accelerated their attacks after a lull claiming four efforts in the past 24 hours emphasizing that they have been targeting U.S. and UK shipping interests. The wave of attacks came as the EU on Monday also confirmed it is accelerating its response saying that it expects to have at least four warships in the area in the coming weeks.

While the shipping world was still trying to sort out the details of yesterday’s attack against the Rubymar, a 32,200 dwt bulker registered in Belize, the Houthi spokesperson Yahya Saree went back on social media hailing their victory claiming to have sunk the vessel and highlighting three other attacks today. U.S. Central Command issued a brief statement acknowledging the attack with sources saying the Rubymar is anchored south of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

“Operations in the Red and Arab Sea will escalate and will not stop,” wrote Saree on social media. He reiterated the attacks would continue until the “siege of Gaza” was ended.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations confirmed that it had received reports of another attack on Monday 100 nautical miles east of Aden, Yemen with security analysts saying it involved a bulker the Sea Champion (48,857 dwt) inbound to Aden. The vessel is reported to be owned by MKM Chartering of New York although registered in Greece and managed by a Greek company.

The master of the vessel reported to UKMTO that there was an explosion nearby with no damage. However, shortly after that, there was a second explosion in the air above the vessel. The master reported shrapnel and marks in the paintwork but no injuries.

It is being pointed out that the vessel is carrying corn from Argentina to Yemen. However, Aden is controlled by the government and not the militant Houthis. 

The Houthis are also taking credit for a second attack which UKMTO described as under investigation in the Bala el-Mandeb. Saree said they had attacked the Navis Fortuna, a 37,852 dwt bulk carrier. He called the vessel “American” although it is registered in the Marshall Islands. Reports are linking it to a company controlled by Andrea Organista D’Amato incorporated in Switzerland. The vessel appears to have been coming from India and heading to Italy while displaying on its AIS “All Chinese.” The Rubymar yesterday had a message “Armed Guard,” but both seem to have been of little consequence to the Houthi.

Later reports are confirming the vessel was hit by an uncrewed aerial system. The crew is reported to be safe but the vessel suffered superficial damage to the exterior of the accommodation block.

Finally, the Houthis also claimed to have shot at a U.S. aircraft operating over Yemen. Open Source Intelligence Monitor posted unconfirmed photos saying a MQ-9 “Reaper” Surveillance Drone appeared to have been taken down over Yemen.

 

 

UKMTO is also investigated reports of a suspicious approach further to the north in the Red Sea closer to Jizan, Saudi Arabia. The master of the vessel said two drones had been spotted about the vessel at a height of approximately 100 meters (328 feet). They were following the ship for 30 minutes but cleared the area without an incident.

The wave of attacks came as the European Council officially launched today EUNAVFOR ASPIDES. The mission was officially designated on February 8.

President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, issued a statement saying, “I welcome today’s decision to launch the EU Naval Force Operation Aspides. Beyond crisis response, it's a step towards a stronger European presence at sea to protect our European interests.”

EU officials said the objective of the defensive maritime security operation is to restore and safeguard freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf. The operation will be active along the main sea lines of communication in the Baab el-Mandab Strait and the Strait of Hormuz, as well as international waters in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf with an initial one-year mandate.

Germany on Friday took the next step to authorize its participation in the effort. A final vote is due at the end of this week in the parliament while the frigate Hessen is already entering the Mediterranean to take up station as part of the effort. Denmark has already sent one of its frigates into the Red Sea while also authorizing future participation in the EU effort.

“We are taking bold action to protect the commercial and security interests of the EU and the international community,” said Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EU Commission.

A spokesperson said the effort would start with at least four vessels suggesting more could join. Reuters says France and Italy will be joining the effort. Both countries already have vessels in the region participating in EUNAVOR ATALANTA and France escorting commercial ships in the Red Sea.