Maritime agencies report explosion off Yemen coast

AFP , Ahram Online , Monday 18 Dec 2023

A "possible explosion" struck a key shipping lane off Yemen Monday, two maritime agencies said, the latest incident in the vital waterway threatened by Huthi rebel attacks.

The  CMA CGM Palais Royal , the world s largest container ship powered by natural gas, sails in the
The CMA CGM Palais Royal , the world s largest container ship powered by natural gas, sails in the bay of Marseille, southern France. AFP


The British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations issued a warning of a potential explosion striking near a vessel passing through the Bab al-Mandeb strait that separates the Arabian Peninsula from the Horn of Africa.

"The captain reported... the 'explosion' occurring two nautical miles off one of the vessel's quarters while it was transiting," said maritime security firm Ambrey.

The incident took place as Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin arrived in Bahrain, home base of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, as part of a Middle East tour that will also take him to Qatar.

In Manama, he is to discuss "US efforts to convene multilateral coalitions to respond to aggression at sea that threatens shipping and the global economy," a Pentagon statement said at the weekend.

The US is to announce the launch of an expanded maritime protection force involving Arab states, The Guardian reports.

"Much like the Task Force 153 already operating out of Bahrain, the larger protection force is designed to provide reassurance to commercial shipping companies that Houthi attacks will be seen off, and that the sea remains safe for commercial shipping," the British daily says.

According to the Guardian, "some US officials believe Washington has secured the involvement of Jordan, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Egypt and Bahrain."

"There had been concern that Saudi Arabia, which is seeking a peace deal with the Houthis to end the eight-year civil war in Yemen, might stay out of the protection force."

Yemen's Huthi rebels have launched a flurry of drone and missile attacks on vessels entering the Red Sea through the strait, saying they are seeking to put pressure on Israel to end its devastating war on Gaza.

In response to the attacks, five big shipping companies: the French CMA CGM, the Danish Maersk, the German Hapag-Lloyd and the Italian-Swiss-owned Mediterranean Shipping Co, and Hong Kong-based OOCL have now stopped their ships using the Red Sea in the wake of attacks mounted by Houthis in protest at Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza.

Osama Rabie, Chairman of the Suez Canal Authority (SCA), disclosed that 55 ships have diverted to the longer Cape of Good Hope route since 19 November. However, he emphasized that the Suez Canal's traffic remains normal despite ongoing Red Sea tensions.

The SCA chairman stressed that the Suez Canal will remain the fastest and shortest route for the ships.

More than 20 ships have reported incidents in the past months, many around the narrow Bab al-Mandab that separates the Arabian peninsula from Africa.

On Saturday, a US destroyer shot down 14 drones in the Red Sea launched from rebel-controlled areas of Yemen, the US military said.

And the British government said one of its destroyers had also brought down a suspected attack drone in the area.

Rebel spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam said that neutral Oman had launched mediation efforts to safeguard shipping using the waterway.

"Under the sponsorship of our brothers in the Sultanate of Oman, communication and discussion continue with a number of international parties regarding operations in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea," he said on X, formerly Twitter.

The spokesman said rebels would continue to conduct attacks on Israel-linked vessels or ships heading to Israeli ports unless more food and medicine is allowed into the besieged Gaza Strip.

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