UN-Chartered Vessel Attacked off Yemen
On Sunday, an offshore supply vessel chartered by the U.N. World Food Programme was attacked off Hodeidah, Yemen, the latest in a series of reported rebel attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea.
A spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) told Reuters that the VOS Theia had recently completed a delivery of 80 tons of food and 55 tons of medical supplies to Hodeidah, and she was waiting at an anchorage about 30 nm off the coast of Yemen. At 1730 hours, unidentified personnel in a skiff approached the Theia and opened fire. They attempted to take control of the ship, but onboard security personnel repelled them in an exchange of gunfire. “Both the crew and the vessel are safe, with no injuries or obvious damage to the vessel,” the WFP spokesperson said in a statement.
While the attackers were not identified, previous strikes on merchant shipping off Yemen have been attributed to Houthi rebels, who claimed responsibility for the attack on the Saudi tanker Abqaiq in April. EUNAVFOR intelligence and security chief Maj. Tom Mobbs suggested that a second attack on the Ince Inebolu was likely carried out by Houthis in a case of mistaken identity, and would likely not be the last of its kind. Houthi forces denied involvement in the strike on the Inebolu.
The attack on the Theia came as Saudi-backed forces close in on the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah. Coalition forces are now only eight miles away, and a final push to take the port could come soon. UN envoy Martin Griffiths is said to be negotiating with Houthi leaders to see if they will give up Hodeidah without a fight in order to avoid disrupting vital supply lines for the civilian population.
Hodeidah handles the majority of cargo arriving in western Yemen, including food. Due in part to a rigorous Saudi inspection process for import cargo, the UN says, food shipments have trickled through since late 2017, and over eight million Yemenis are presently at risk of starvation. If Hodeidah were to close altogether due to active combat, it could result in famine, aid groups warn.