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Houthi stand on beach after ship attack

Armed men stand on the beach as the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, is anchored off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

Houthis Keeping Up Pressure with Near Miss on US-Flagged Tanker Security Program Ship

Reuters
Total Views: 3140
February 26, 2024
Reuters

By Jonathan Saul and Mohamed Ghobari

LONDON/ADEN, Feb 26 (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthis fired a missile that likely targeted the Torm Thor in the Gulf of Aden on Feb. 24 but missed the U.S.-flagged oil tanker, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Monday, as the Iran-aligned militia steps up attacks on ships.

Shipping risks have escalated due to repeated Houthi drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait since November in support of Palestinians in Gaza. U.S. and British forces have responded with several strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

The Iran-aligned Houthis last week sent shipping officials and insurers formal notice of what they termed a ban on vessels linked to Israel, the U.S. and Britain from sailing in surrounding seas, seeking to reinforce their military campaign, in advisories seen by Reuters. 

In the latest attack, the missile impacted the water causing no damage nor injuries, CENTCOM added in a post on X.

The Iran-aligned group said on Sunday that they had launched an attack on the tanker.

The Torm Thor is being used as part of the U.S. government’s Tanker Security Program, which has aimed to bolster oil shipping options for its armed forces in times of crisis, the U.S. Maritime Administration has said.

Two maritime security sources said the vessel had a U.S. military escort.

The vessel’s owner is Denmark’s Torm although it does not operate the ship, shipping databases showed.

Torm told Reuters it had halted sailings in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since mid January for its fleet of 85 vessels that it has full control of. 

“Our decision to pause all transits through the southern part of the Red Sea for TORM operated vessels remains unchanged, prioritizing the safety and well-being of our crew above all,” the group said. 

The U.S. military also shot down in “self-defense” two one-way unmanned aerial attack vehicles over the southern Red Sea on Sunday, CENTCOM said.

The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have launched exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels since Nov. 19 as a protest against Israel’s military operations in Gaza.

ABANDONED RUBYMAR VESSEL

There were growing concerns on Monday for the fate of the abandoned cargo vessel Rubymar after it was hit by a Houthi missile on Feb 18 in the southern Red Sea and was leaking fuel.

Shipping sources said weather in the area had worsened in recent days with strong winds. 

The Rubymar’s owner is looking at towing the vessel to Saudi Arabia once a hole can be patched up, the ship’s chartering broker said on Monday.

“She is still afloat with engine room and no. 5 hold under water,” Roy Khoury, CEO of Lebanon-based Blue Fleet Group, told Reuters by email. 

Khoury said they were looking at bringing in a work ship that will attempt to close the hole caused by the Houthi missile. 

“There is a small fuel leakage,” Khoury said, adding that vessel was carrying 22,000 tonnes of fertilizer onboard.

“We are contracting a tug boat to come alongside and tow the vessel to a safe port. The problem is that neither Djibouti nor Aden port authorities are accepting the vessel,” Khouri said. 

“So, we are now looking at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.” 

A Yemeni port source said the vessel was far away from the southern Yemeni port of Aden and the port had not been asked to help with the towing of the vessel.

A separate Yemeni government source said a team had visited the Rubymar on Monday and they observed oily patches floating on the water surrounding it with part of the vessel sinking.

Djibouti officials could not be immediately contacted. 

The turmoil from Israel’s war with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has spilled over to some extent into other parts of the Middle East. Apart from the Houthi attacks on vital shipping lanes, Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group has traded fire with Israel along the Israel-Lebanon border and Iraqi militia have attacked bases that host U.S. forces. 

(Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London, Yomna Ehab and Enas Alashray in Cairo, Mohamed Ghobari in Aden and Maha El Dahan in Dubai; Editing by Kim Coghill, Michael Perry, William Maclean)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2024.

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