Norwegian-Owned Tanker Hit as Red Sea Attacks on Shipping Continue to Grow

product tanker
Swan Atlantic was struck and the companies confirmed a small fire brought under control by the crew (Uni-Tankers)

Published Dec 18, 2023 1:48 PM by The Maritime Executive


A Norwegian-owned tanker was struck today, December 18, in the Red Sea while several other vessels reported incidents as the escalation in the region continues despite the increasing presence of coalition forces. The situation remains chaotic with some of the reports unconfirmed and shipping companies increasingly diverting away from the region waiting for a military response.

Commercial managers Uni-Tankers and the owner of the chemical tanker Swan Atlantic (49,999 dwt) both issued statements confirming that their vessel had been struck and expressing frustration over the situation. The companies confirmed that the product tanker, which is carrying a load of vegetable oils from France with a stop in Saudi Arabia, sailing to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean was struck by an “unidentified object” this morning on its port side. 

Some reports are saying the tanker which was built in 2017 and is 480 feet (146.5 meters) in length was targeted with two missiles and possibly struck by one or both. The companies are saying there was a small fire brought under control by the crew and the USS Carney responded. They said the crew, which is Indian nationals, was safe and the vessel was proceeding under its own power. An executive from Inventor Chemical Tankers in Norway told Bloomberg the vessel’s water tank however was damaged. 

In a prepared statement, the company highlighted the vessel is owned in Norway, managed from Singapore, registered in the Cayman Islands, and not involved in any way in trade with Israel. They blamed a website for incorrectly listing the ship as managed by an “Israel-affiliated company,” saying they believed this was the reason for the attack.

The Houthi made a statement saying the tanker had been targeted because like others it was involved in trade with Israel. The rebels took credit for the attack and said they had also targeted an MSC containership, although that was unconfirmed. They also said the attacks were launched after the vessels refused orders to change course to Yemen.

The 18,900 TEU boxship MSC Clara was reported by the Houthi to have been targeted. The vessel was sailing from King Abdullah Port in Saudi Arabia to Abu Dhabi, despite MSC’s statement on Saturday that it was suspending Red Sea service. In a statement late Monday, U.S. Central Command said that Clara's crew reported an explosion in the water nearby, but no injuries or damage. 

The United Kingdom Trade Organizations (UKMTO) confirmed a total of three incidents today while some reports are saying there were at least four incidents. The Swan Atlantic was reported to be approximately 24 nautical miles north west of Mokha, Yemen when it was struck. 

In a second confirmed incident, an unidentified ship reported to UKMTO that it was being approached by a small boat carrying armed individuals also approximately 24 nm from Mokha. In that instance, the vessel had armed guards aboard who fired warning shots and the small boat withdrew.

UKMTO is also reporting that a third vessel spotted five small boats with armed individuals aboard. They are giving the position as 63 nm north west of Djibouti. In this case, there was an unidentified coalition vessel nearby and they speculate the small boats withdrew for that reason.

Another report involved a possible explosion two nautical miles from a vessel. This one was approximately 30 nm south of Mokha and is still being investigated.

Late today, UKMTO issued yet another alert this time warning of two uncrewed aerial vehicles (drones) circling in an area 84 nm east of Djibouti. The master who reported the sighting to UKMTO said the two drones circled and came as close as 50 meters before disappearing. The UK is warning vessels to use caution and to report any further sightings or suspicious activity. 

The attacks continued despite a report by Reuters that there are now forty coalition vessels in the area operating to maintain security. Reports from various sources across Europe are saying that Germany, Denmark, and Norway are all considering adding vessels to the effort. Last week, Australian media said the government had also received a request from the United States to send a warship.

Details of the coalition’s maritime security efforts are expected to be announced this week. In the meantime, many of the world’s leading shipping companies have suspended trips through the Red Sea and announced they are beginning to reroute vessels around Africa.