Red Sea Drone and Missile Attacks Continue Undeterred Despite Coalition

Iranian made drone
US CENTCOM released a photo of an Iranian drone spotted earlier in December over the Arabian Sea near the carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CENTCOM)

Published Dec 26, 2023 2:28 PM by The Maritime Executive


Attacks on commercial shipping coming from Yemen continued on Monday apparently undeterred by the multi-national coalition led by the United States. While no vessels reported being hit, the Houthi rebels reiterated that they are targeting Israeli shipping interests and ships trading with Israel. MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company later confirmed that one of its vessels was among the ships targeted today.

U.S. CENTCOM is reporting that U.S. forces shot down 12 one-way attack drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles, and two land attack cruise missiles over a 10-hour period today, December 26. The destroyer USS Laboon along with F/A-18 Super Hornets from the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group led the defensive efforts in the southern Red Sea.

Despite the success at downing the attacks launched from Yemen, there were two more incidents reported by the UK Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO) both coming from Yemen aimed at shipping in the southern zone of the Red Sea. In the first report, two vessels told UKMTO that they had sighted unmanned aerial crafts while they were approximately 50 nautical miles west of Al Hudaydah, Yemen, and north of the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Approximately 15 minutes after sighting the drones, a vessel reported two explosions which it judged to be nearly five nautical miles from its position. The vessel that was communicating with the coalition said that there was no damage or injuries to its crew and it was proceeding.

A similar report from UKMTO warned of missiles also coming from Yemen. This incident took place approximately 60 nautical miles from Al Hudaydah with a vessel reporting sighting the missiles about four nautical miles from its position. Explosions were heard with the vessel reporting an explosion approximately half a nautical mile from its position. Again, there were no injuries to the crew and the vessel was continuing its voyage.

UKMTO is numbering these are the 21st and 22nd warnings it has issued in its role relaying information from the UK’s Royal Navy to the commercial shipping industry. The U.S. Pentagon separately asserted that more than 100 drones and missiles have been launched against commercial ships from 35 nations.

MSC issued a statement confirming that its containership MSC United VIII (90,389 dwt) was attacked while transiting the Red Sea. The shipping company said a nearby coalition task force warship instructed the containership to take evasive maneuvers. MSC reports the vessel which is registered in Liberia and has a capacity of 8,200 TEU is sailing from the King Abdullah Port, Saudi Arabia to Karachi, Pakistan. The ship's last AIS signal from earlier today was near the Al Hudaydah port sailing at 18 knots.

The shipping industry welcomed the news of the formation of the coalition and the international effort to enhance safety in the region. Maersk issued an operational update to customers dated December 24 reporting after a pause, adjusting, and diverting services due to safety concerns it had received confirmation that the multi-national security initiative had been deployed.

While thanking customers for their patience, Maersk said, “We are preparing to allow for vessels to resume transit through the Red Sea both eastbound and westbound. We are currently working on plans for the first vessels to make the transit and for this to happen as soon as operationally possible.”  Last week, Maersk posted details on the changes showing that 15 of its service routes were impacted.

Carriers however are continuing to send the majority of their vessels around Africa at this time. Hapag-Lloyd has an online report that shows well over 100 vessels operated by the partners in The Alliance diverting with reports that it includes 25 of Hapag’s ships. A spokesperson for Hapag told Reuters today that the carrier was continuing to review the situation and was planning to decide tomorrow, Wednesday, on how it will proceed.

Other carriers including CMA CGM appear to be increasing the number of diversions. The French carrier on its website shows 14 northbound and 19 southbound voyages impacted. According to Reuters, last week CMA CGM was showing 22 trips impacted by the response to the attacks in the Red Sea. They later issued an update pairing back the ships being diverted to 13 northbound and 15 southbound noting, "Some vessels have made the transit through the Red Sea. This decision is based on an in-depth evaluation of the security landscape and our commitment to the security and safety of our seafarers."

CMA CGM advised customers, "We are currently devising plans for the gradual increase in the number of vessels transiting through the Suez Canal. We are monitoring the situation constantly and we stand ready to promptly reassess and adjust our plans as needed."