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Two US-Flag Maersk Ships Safe After Houthi Missile Attack

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 13090
January 24, 2024

Maersk suspends US-flag operations in the Red Sea after a Houthi attack targeting a Maersk Line, Limited ship carrying U.S. government cargo.

Danish shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk (Maersk) confirmed an incident involving two of its US-flagged vessels, the Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake, near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait on Wednesday.

The two ships were part of scheduled U.S. Navy “accompaniment” for a northbound transit of the Bab el-Mandeb today when they reported seeing explosions close by. Maersk said the U.S. Navy accompaniment also intercepted multiple projectiles.

The US Navy has now rerouted the ships back to the Gulf of Aden.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) office, which does not identify vessels in its alerts, said it received a report from the Master of a commercial vessel reporting an explosion approximately 100 meters off the starboard side while approximately 50 nautical miles south of Al Mukha, Yemen.

The U.S. Central Command confirmed details of the incident in a statement posted to “X”.

“On Jan. 24 at approximately 2 p.m. (Sanaa time), Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists fired three anti-ship ballistic missiles from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the U.S.-flagged, owned, and operated container ship M/V Maersk Detroit, transiting the Gulf of Aden. One missile impacted in the sea. The two other missiles were successfully engaged and shot down by the USS Gravely (DDG 107). There were no reported injuries or damage to the ship,” the statement said.

The Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake are operated by Maersk Line, Limited (MLL), Maersk’s US-flag subsidiary. Both ships are enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Maritime Security Program and Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) with the U.S government.

Maersk said the vessels are carrying cargo belonging to the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, USAID, and other U.S. government agencies and “is therefore afforded the protection of the U.S. Navy for passage.”

As a result, Maersk Line, Limited has made the decision to suspend transits in the region in until further notice, a significant development considering MLL’s role in transporting U.S. military and government cargo. MLL is not only the largest owner and operator of US flag vessels trading internationally, but also the largest participant in the VISA/MSP programs

“The safety of our crews is of utmost importance,” MLL said in a statement. “We are developing network contingencies and will keep you informed,” the statement added.

The incident comes as the Iranian-backed Houthis have launched more than 30 attacks on international shipping since the November in support of Hamas in its conflict with Israel. The Houthis have threatened retailiation against U.S. and British ships in response to military strikes on Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. 

The United States along with 22 allies issued a joint statement on Wednesday following joint military strikes by the U.S. and UK on Houthi-controlled targets in Yemen on Jan. 22.

“The thirty-plus attacks that the Houthis have launched on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November constitute a threat to all countries that rely on international maritime shipping.  We condemn these attacks, and demand an end to them.  We also underscore that those who supply the Houthis with the weapons to conduct these attacks are violating UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and international law.  The January 22 international response to the continuing Houthi attacks demonstrated shared resolve to uphold navigational rights and freedoms, and to defend the lives of mariners from illegal and unjustifiable attacks,” the statement said.

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