Three Ships Attacked off Yemen as US Destroyer Shoots Down Drones

vessels attacked in Red Sea
USS Carney took down at least two drones while responding to attacks on three merchant ships (US Navy file photo)

Published Dec 3, 2023 1:58 PM by The Maritime Executive


Three commercial vessels each sailing in the Red Sea near Yemen and the Bab el Mandeb Strait came under attack today, December 3, according to an updated report from the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Earlier in the day, the Houthi rebels issued a statement taking responsibility for attacking two ships and calling Israeli ships or those associated with Israel a “legitimate target.” 

CENTCOM confirmed the earlier reports that the USS Carney was involved in multiple engagements in the Red Sea involving Houthi attacks on commercial vessels. They reported that the destroyer shot down at least two drones while denying media reports that the U.S. warship had been targeted. “The drone was headed toward Carney,” CENTCOM says, “although its specific target is not clear. We cannot assess at this time whether the Carney was a target of the UAVs.”

CENTCOM in its statement said it had “every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran, The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners.”

The United Kingdom Trade Operations group (UKMTO) earlier in the day issued three separate alerts regarding uncrewed aerial systems in the vicinity of the Bab el Mandeb. Their reports said there was a “potential explosion” while warning ships to exercise caution and report any suspicious activity.

“This morning, the naval forces of the Yemen Armed Forces, carried out a targeted operation against two Israeli ships,” a spokesperson for Yemeni Houthi forces said in a broadcast statement. “The Yemeni armed forces will continue to prevent Israeli ships from navigating the Red and Arab seas.”

The statement identified the two vessels that were attacked as the Unity Explore and the Number 9. The spokesperson alleged the ships had rejected warning messages and then they launched a drone attack against one and a missile against the other.

CENTCOM confirmed those two ships had been the target of three attacks with both being hit and suffering minor damage. They however are reporting a third ship, the AOM Sophie II was also hit later in the day. The timeline from CENTCOM reports the first attack took place at approximately 9:15 a.m. Sanaa (Yemen) time, with additional attacks at 12:00 p.m., 12:35 p.m., 3:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m.

The Unity Explorer, a 60,650 dwt bulker operated by Unity based in the UK was the first to be targeted and the only vessel with apparent ties to Israel. CENTCOM reports an anti-ship ballistic missile was fired at the ship and impacted in the vicinity.  The vessel had transited the Suez Canal on November 27 and is reporting on its AIS that it is bound for Singapore. The ship is registered in the Bahamas, but Unity is headed by Danny Ungar, who started the shipping company a decade ago as DAO Shipping. 

Approximately three hours after the first attack, the Unity Explorer reported it had been struck by a missile and suffered minor damage. The Carney again responded and this time detected a drone inbound while it was assisting with a damage assessment of the bulker. The Carney destroyed the done, the second one CENTCOM confirmed. At noon the Carney engaged another inbound UAV and shot it down.

In the afternoon, the Number 9, a 4,250 TEU containership, registered in Panama was struck by another missile fired from Yemen. It is traveling from Singapore bound for the Suez Canal. UK-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which manages the vessel confirmed to Reuters that the vessel "was hit by a projectile while transiting the Bab al-Mandab Strait," but denied reports that the vessel was in distress or possibly sinking as has been reported by some outlets. BSM told Reuters that Number 9 "is currently sailing and there were no reports of injuries or pollution after the incident." CENTCOM, however, is saying the vessel reported damage.

An hour later, CENTCOM reports a Japanese-owned bulker, AOM Sophie II (81,800 dwt), also issued a distress call. She reported being struck by a missile and the Carney responded. The Panama-flagged vessel is coming from Venezuela bound for China. CENTCOM is saying the vessel reported no significant damage.

Both the U.S. and UK had a week ago warned of increased activity and danger in the region. Last Sunday, November 26, a chemical tanker was boarded. The U.S. apprehended the individuals and said indications were that they are Somali pirates. However, last week a CMA CGM-chartered containership also reported an explosion from a done while it was sailing in the Indian Ocean.