Houthi ship attacks put sailors’ lives at risk – EU

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Last week’s attack on the bulk carrier True Confidence in the Gulf of Aden drew condemnation from the European Union (EU), which is now running three naval operations off the African coast, including the Red Sea which opens into the deep water Gulf.

An EU statement has it the incident resulted in loss of life and “multiple injuries”.

True Confidence is Liberian owned and sails under the flag of Caribbean country Barbados and was, the European bloc has it, attacked by Houthi rebels on 6 March while transiting the international commercially important Gulf of Aden. Two seafarers were reported killed and several injured – the first fatalities recorded since Houthi attacks on shipping began last year. To date, one vessel, the MV Rubymar, has been sunk as a result of Houthi attacks.

The attacks are “violations of international law that threaten maritime security, freedom of navigation and global trade and put the lives of sailors at risk”, the EU said.

“These attacks must cease immediately, as reiterated in the UNSC (United Nations Security Council) Resolution 2722 adopted on 10 January.

“The EU and its member states in accordance with international law are determined to defend their vessels against attacks that undermine freedom of navigation, and navigational rights.

“Through the EU naval operation Aspides, the EU will continue to protect maritime security as a global common good and safeguard commercial and security interests of the EU and the wider international community,” the statement reads.

Operation Aspides, “shield” in ancient Greek, was announced on Monday, 19 February and currently has four frigates and a lone unnamed aerial asset at its disposal. Its area of operations (AOO) is listed as “from the Red Sea to the Gulf [of Aden] and a large part of the north-west Indian Ocean”.

A United States (US) initiative made public in December saw Operation Prosperity Guardian established to protect commercial shipping from the unwanted activities of Houthis in the Red Sea. It appears only Denmark has provided a warship in support of this Operation.

Meanwhile, Houthi attacks continue. The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) reported that US and coalition forces downed at least 28 uncrewed aerial vehicles on 9 March. The day before, Houthi forces fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles from Yemen into the Gulf of Aden at the MV Propel Fortune, a Singapore-flagged, owned, and operated vessel. The missiles did not impact the vessel. This prompted the US to strike two truck-mounted anti-ship missiles in Yemen.

The shipping industry has also condemned Houthi attacks. Following the True Confidence incident, Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said “this act of senseless violence on the high seas is an affront to transport workers all over the world and a clear violation of international law….This attack serves as the starkest reminder of the urgent need for collective action to safeguard the lives of those who keep the global economy afloat.”

A statement from a number of maritime organisations, including Bimco, Intertanko, OCIMF, CLIA, Intercargo, ECSA, IMCA and ICS, said that the “Industry Associations express their deep concern over the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered by the crew of MV True Confidence in an attack in the Red Sea on 6 March 2024.”

“No delivery window is worth the loss of seafarers’ lives. We call on the industry to divert ships around the Cape of Good Hope until safe transit through the Red Sea can be guaranteed.”