Missiles from Yemen miss a ship loaded near the key Bab el-Mandeb Strait

AP , Wednesday 13 Dec 2023

Two missiles fired from territory held by Yemen's Houthi group missed a commercial tanker loaded with Indian-manufactured jet fuel near the key Bab el-Mandeb Strait on Wednesday, a U.S. official said.

File- US Navy Visual News Service the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason steams through the Atlantic Ocean. AFP


It is the first time they target an energy shipment heading to the Suez Canal.

An American warship also shot down a suspected Houthi drone flying in its direction during the incident, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters. No one was hurt in the attack, the official said.

The assault on the tanker Ardmore Encounter further escalates a campaign by the Houthi rebels targeting ships close to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and also widens the international impact of the Israeli war raging in the Gaza Strip.

The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker was travelling north toward the Suez Canal in the Red Sea, satellite tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press showed. The vessel was on its way from Mangalore, India, and had an armed security crew aboard it, according to data transmitted by the ship. Those guards opened fire to drive off skiffs loaded with men trying to board the vessel, the private intelligence firm Ambrey said.

Ardmore Shipping Corp., which owns and operates the ship, issued a statement to the AP acknowledging the attack.

“No one boarded the vessel and all crew members are safe and accounted for,” the statement said. “The vessel remains fully operational with no loss of cargo or damage on board.”

It added: “Ardmore is in close contact with the relevant authorities and military assistance is now in the area providing support as required.”

The ship was carrying a load of jet fuel from Shell MRPL Aviation Fuels & Services Ltd., a joint operation of the oil giant and India's national oil company. The fuel was heading to either Rotterdam in the Netherlands or Gavle, Sweden, Ardmore Shipping said. Shell declined to comment.

The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the attack.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, earlier reported a separate incident off the coast of Oman. It said a vessel had been followed by smaller boats carrying machine guns and men in grey uniforms before escaping unharmed.

On Monday night, a missile also fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels slammed into a Norwegian-flagged tanker in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The Houthis have carried out a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and launched drones and missiles targeting Israel. In recent days, they have threatened to attack any vessel they believe is either going to or coming from Israel. There was no immediate link found between the Ardmore Encounter and Israel.

France and the United States have stopped short of saying their ships were targeted in rebel attacks, but have said Houthi drones targeting their ships were shot down in self-defence. Washington so far has declined to directly respond to the attacks, as has Israel, whose military continues to insist the ships do not have links to their country.

Global shipping has increasingly been targeted as the Israeli war on Gaza threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even during a brief pause in fighting during which Hamas exchanged detainees for Palestinian children and women held by Israel. The collapse of the truce and the resumption of the Israeli ground offensive and airstrikes on Gaza have raised the risk of more sea attacks.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is only 29 kilometres (18 miles) wide at its narrowest point, limiting traffic to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nearly 10% of all oil traded at sea passes through it. An estimated $1 trillion in goods pass through the strait annually.

In November, Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeida. Separately, a container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected drone in the Indian Ocean.

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