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Houthi Militants Fire Six Ballistic Missiles at Two Ships

cargo ship targeted by Houthi
General cargo ship Morning Tide was targeted due to British management (Furadino Shipping)

Published Feb 6, 2024 12:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

Yemen's Houthi militants targeted two U.S. and UK-linked ships with ballistic missiles overnight, according to U.S. military officials. The attacks came just a day after the UK’s Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said the UK believed the militants still had “an appetite” to continue targeting ships, despite three rounds of joint U.S.-UK strikes and multiple U.S. missions to destroy equipment and arms. 

The UK-managed vessel, a 12,000 dwt general cargo ship named Morning Tide, transited the Suez Canal on February 2. It appeared to be displaying a message on its AIS declaring “Chinese Ownership," though its Equasis record shows that it is owned by a firm in the United Kingdom.

Despite the ship's attempt to avoid targeting, the UK Maritime Trade Organization and other agencies report that it was attacked 57 miles west of Hodeidah, Yemen. Initial reports indicated that the captain and crew saw small boats approaching and attempted to take evasive maneuvers. One of the small boats fired what was assumed to be a missile at a distance of 30 meters, and debris from this suspected missile hit the ship, causing damage to the bridge windows. 

A company official later posted a message saying the explosion “looked like fireworks,” reported Bloomberg. The company confirmed that no one was injured and said the ship was continuing on course. 

In an update late Tuesday, U.S. Central Command said that Houthi militants on shore had fired three anti-ship ballistic missiles at Morning Tide. The three missiles hit the water near the ship without effect.

The second vessel was a Greek-owned bulker managed by Star Bulk Carriers, a U.S.-listed company. The Marshall Islands-flagged Star Nasia departed Newport News, Virginia on December 30. She transited the Suez Canal at the end of January, reporting a destination in India. TankerTrackers.com reports that she is carrying a load of American coal.

Shortly after transiting the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb and entering the Gulf of Aden, the vessel reported an explosion about 50 meters away, at the water level. Early reports suggested that the attackers used a drone, and a Greek shipping ministry official told Reuters it could also have been a sea mine. 

U.S. Central Command reported a different sequence of events. The command reported that Star Nasia was attacked by three Houthi ballistic missiles, spaced over the span of 12 hours. The first missile missed the ship, though the nearby blast caused minor damage. The second missile missed and had no effect. The third and last inbound missile was shot down by the destroyer USS Laboon. No injuries were reported, and the vessel is still under way to its commercial destination. 

The spokesperson for the Houthis, Yahya Saree, later issued a statement taking credit for the attacks. He said their forces “have carried out two military operations in the Red Sea, the first targeted the American ship Star Nasia, while the other one targeted the British ship Morning Tide, with suitable naval missiles, and strikes were direct and accurate.”

The Houthi repeated their message that they will continue to target “all hostile American-British targets” as well as Israeli shipping until the war in the Gaza Strip has stopped.

EUNAVFOR is keeping a running tally of all the reported incidents in the region. They numbered these two vessels as number 44 and 45 among the merchant ships attacked since November 2023 when the Houthi first seized the car carrier Galaxy Leader.

The Bulgarian Transport Minister has also provided the first update in weeks on the crew of the car carrier. According to a report from Agence France Press, he said that the crew is safe and now being put up in a hotel. He remains hopeful that the crew will be returned “safe and sound,” he said, and will shortly return home.