Houthis resume attacks on shipping

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Houthi rebels have resumed attacks on shipping off Yemen, with two vessels targeted this week, including the furthest attack recorded to date from Yemen.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) on 10 July said that a ship 40 nautical miles of Al Mukha, Yemen, on Wednesday reported an explosion in close proximity to the vessel, but the vessel and crew were safe and the vessel was proceeding to its next port of call.

The vessel was identified as the Mount Fuji.

The previous day, the UKMTO received a report of an incident 180 nautical miles east of Nishtun, Yemen, with an explosion close to the vessel, but that the crew and vessel were safe.

The vessel targeted on Tuesday was the Maersk Sentosa, and marked the first Houthi attack recorded this month. Maersk confirmed the vessel reported being targeted by a flying object in the north of the Gulf of Aden.

The Joint Maritime Information Centre, which is overseen by the US Navy, said the attack was the furthest yet attempted by the Houthis.

On Tuesday night, the Houthis claimed responsibility for three attacks, including the Maersk Sentosa. Houthi spokesman Yahya Sarea said it had targeted the Marathopolis in the Arabian Sea and MSC Patnaree in the Gulf of Aden with drones.

The previous reported Houthi attack in the region took place on 28 June.

The Iran-backed Houthis have launched drone and missile attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandab Strait and Gulf of Aden since November in solidarity with Palestinians over the war in Gaza. More than 70 vessels have been targeted, and four sailors killed. Two vessels have sunk, and global shipping disrupted.

The increase in Houthi attacks after a period of relative quiet comes as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt enters the Middle East region and replaces the USS Dwight D Eisenhower, which had spent months in the Red Sea to counter the Houthis.

US naval forces in the region continue to destroy Houthi unmanned vehicles – US Central Command (CENTCOM) on Tuesday said it had destroyed one unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in Yemen in the past 24 hours; two UAVs were destroyed on 7 July. Another two UAVs and one uncrewed surface vessel were destroyed on 10 July.

The European Union’s Operation Aspides, meanwhile has shot down 18 Houthi-launched UAVs and missiles over the last six months. The new Operation, headquartered in Greece, to date has provided protection to 170 ships transiting the dangerous waters leading to the Suez Canal.

This is according to European Union (EU) Vice President Josep Borrell, who visited Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh and called on the long-serving EU naval task force – Operation Atalanta – now termed a maritime security provider after years of anti-piracy and ship protection to World Food Programme (WFP) carriers as well as merchant shipping.

Speaking at a media conference to mark the end of his visit, Borrell told Guelleh that EU/Djibouti co-operation started in 2008 when the first EU naval assets were deployed to the Indian Ocean and adjacent waters off the Horn of Africa in Operation Atalanta.

Atalanta, Borrell said, reduced the threat of piracy off the Somali coast, but the current major threat was in the Red Sea where “attacks on shipping are causing problems for everyone”.