Red Sea crisis

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Red Sea crisis
Part of the spillover of the Israel–Hamas war, the Iran–Israel proxy conflict, the Iran–United States proxy conflict, and the Yemeni Crisis

Map of Houthi activity near the Yemeni coast:
  Houthi-controlled Yemen
  Government of Yemen (PLC) and (STC)
   Houthi attacks (red) and hijackings (blue)
Date19 October 2023 – present
Location
Status Ongoing
Belligerents
 Supreme Political Council[a] Iran[b]
  Axis of Resistance
 Israel
Independent Patrols:
Commanders and leaders
Strength
  Yemeni Armed Forces (SPC)
Specific units:
Casualties and losses
  32 killed[c][12]
  8 wounded
14 detained[16]
2 Navy SEALs declared dead[17]
2 MQ-9 Reaper destroyed
6 Egyptian civilians wounded, one unidentified sailor injured
Two ships have been hijacked by Houthi militants; one ship and 25 crew members remain in Houthi custody, while one ship has been released. At least 10 ships have been damaged by Houthi attacks.

The Red Sea crisis[18][19] is an ongoing military standoff that began on 19 October 2023, when the Iran-backed Houthi movement within Yemen launched a barrage of missiles and armed drones at Israel. The Houthis have staged multiple seizures of civilian-operated cargo ships sailing near the Yemeni coast, and have claimed any Israel-linked shipping as a target,[20][21][22] although multiple vessels with no apparent link to Israel have also been attacked.[23] Houthis said they will not stop until Israel ceases its war on Hamas.[24][25] The crisis in the Red Sea is a part of a broader proxy war between the United States and Iran.[26]

Operating against Yemen's internationally recognized government, the Houthi movement's militants have controlled a considerable swath of the country's coastal territory along the Red Sea since 2014. The civil war has led to extensive internal displacement, a Saudi-led naval blockade, and a blockade on oil exports which have all contributed to famine in Yemen since 2016, one of the worst famines in the world.[27][28] Shortly after the beginning of the Israel–Hamas war, many of the Hamas-allied Houthis' missile and drone attacks were intercepted by Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missiles; others fell short of their targets or were intercepted by the Israeli Air Force, the United States Navy, and the French Navy.

Houthi militants have also fired on various countries' merchant vessels in the Red Sea, and particularly in the Bab-el-Mandeb—a chokepoint of the global economy as it serves as the southern maritime gateway to the Suez Canal of Egypt. To avoid Houthi attacks, hundreds of commercial vessels have been rerouted to sail around South Africa.[29]

The Houthis' militant activities in the Red Sea have incurred a military response from a number of countries; the United States, which assembled Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect the Red Sea shipping route, has bombed the Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen and attacked Houthi vessels in the Red Sea. Since 12 January, the United States and the United Kingdom have headed the coalition's series of missile strikes against the Houthis, while other countries have begun independently patrolling the waters near Yemen.[30]

Background

Houthis within Yemen

The Houthi movement is an Iran-backed Zaydi Shia Islamist militant organization that exercises de facto control over parts of Yemen, though it is not the country's internationally recognized government; the Houthi takeover in Yemen in 2014 resulted in the group's acquisition of the capital city of Sanaa, but the anti-Houthi Presidential Leadership Council remains recognized by the international community as Yemen's legitimate government.[31] After this conflict grew into an ongoing civil war, millions of residents were internally displaced, and a Saudi-led coalition responded by imposing a blockade of Yemen. These combined to shrink the economy by half and greatly increase food insecurity. Since 2017, Yemen has had one of the worst famines in the world.[32]

Houthis and the Israel–Hamas war

Areas controlled by Houthi movement in 2024, colored green

Following the Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October 2023, which triggered the Israel–Hamas war, numerous Iran-backed militant groups across the Middle East (including the Houthis) expressed support for the Palestinians and threatened to attack Israel. Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi warned the United States against intervening in support of Israel, threatening that such an intervention would be met with retaliation by drone and missile strikes.[33] In order to end their attacks in the Red Sea, the Houthis demanded a ceasefire in the Israel–Hamas war and an end to the accompanying Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.[34][35][36]

Weapons used by Houthi militants

According to Armament Research Services, Houthi weapons are mostly of Russian, Chinese or Iranian origin.[37][38] They are known to use surface-to-surface missiles, artillery rockets, loitering munitions and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).[39] They have several missiles and UAVs capable of reaching Israel from Yemen:

Timeline of events

October 2023

On 19 October 2023 US officials said the United States Navy destroyer USS Carney shot down three land-attack cruise missiles and several drones heading toward Israel launched by the Houthis in Yemen. This was the first action by the US military to defend Israel since the outbreak of the war.[33] It was later reported that the ship shot down four cruise missiles and 15 drones.[42] Another missile was reportedly intercepted by Saudi Arabia.[43]

On 27 October 2023 two loitering munitions were fired in a northerly direction from the southern Red Sea. According to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials, their target was Israel, but they did not cross the border from Egypt. Of the two drones, one fell short and hit a building adjacent to a hospital in Taba, Egypt, injuring six; the other was shot down near an electricity plant close to the town of Nuweiba, Egypt.[44][45][46] A Houthi official later made a one-word post on Twitter after the drone crashed in Taba, mentioning the nearby Israeli city of Eilat.[47]

On 31 October an alert was triggered in Eilat, Eilot kibbutz and the Shahorit industrial park area regarding the penetration of hostile aircraft from the Red Sea. The aircraft was successfully intercepted over the Red Sea. The Arrow system intercepted a ballistic missile and the Air Force intercepted several cruise missiles fired from the Red Sea toward Eilat. The Houthis took responsibility for the launches.[48] One cruise missile was shot down by an F-35i Adir jet.[49] The downing of the missile by the Arrow system marks the first time it has been used in the Israel–Hamas war.[50] According to Israeli officials, the interception occurred above Earth's atmosphere above the Negev Desert, making it the first instance of space warfare in history.[51]

November 2023

On 1 November at 00:45 the IDF intercepted an air threat fired from Yemen and identified south of Eilat.[52] A US MQ-9 Reaper drone was shot down off the coast of Yemen by Houthi air defences on 8 November; the Pentagon previously said that MQ-9 drones were flying over Gaza in an intelligence gathering role to aid in the hostage recovery efforts.[53] On 9 November, the Houthis fired a missile toward the city of Eilat.[54] The missile was intercepted by an Arrow 3 missile, marking the first time it was used in an interception.[55]

On 14 November the Houthis fired numerous missiles, one of which was aimed toward the city of Eilat. The missile was intercepted by an Arrow missile according to Israeli officials.[56] The following day, US officials said that USS Thomas Hudner shot down a drone, fired from Yemen, that was headed toward it.[57] On 22 November, the Houthis fired a cruise missile aimed toward the city of Eilat. Israeli officials said the missile was successfully shot down by an F-35.[58] On 23 November 2023, US officials said that the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner had shot down several attack drones launched from Yemen.[59]

On 29 November 2023 US officials said the US Navy destroyer USS Carney shot down a Houthi KAS-04 drone as the destroyer approached the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.[60] On 30 November 2023, Saudi media reported that an Israeli airstrike caused an explosion at a Houthi arms depot in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. Houthi officials denied the report, stating that a gas station was hit instead. A member of the Houthis' political bureau, Hezam al-Asad, said that the explosion was caused by the remnants of a bomb left over from the Yemeni civil war.[61]

December 2023

On 6 December 2023, the Houthi movement launched several ballistic missiles at Israeli military posts in Eilat. On the same day, USS Mason shot down a drone launched from Yemen. There were no clear indications of its target.[62]

On 10 December 2023, the French Navy's frigate Languedoc, operating in the Red Sea, intercepted two drones launched from Hodeida, a Houthi-held port.[63] On 11 December 2023, the Norwegian oil tanker, Strinda, fell victim to an overnight air attack, causing a fire on board.[64] The Languedoc intervened once again, intercepted a Houthi drone targeting the damaged tanker and subsequently placed itself in the protection of the vessel, preventing further attacks. The fire was brought under control and no injuries were reported. The vessel was then escorted to the Gulf of Aden out of the threat zone by an American destroyer, USS Mason.[65][66] The US Navy reportedly shot down 14 drones on 16 December 2023,[67] while Egyptian Air Defense Forces intercepted an object flying near Dahab.[68]

On 18 December 2023, India stationed its destroyer INS Kolkata in the Gulf of Aden for maritime security. The destroyer INS Kochi was already deployed in the region to counter Somali pirates, although the Government of India remains silent about its involvement in Operation Prosperity Guardian.[11]

By 21 December 2023, the Port of Eilat, which gives Israel via the Red Sea its only easy shipping access to Asia without the need to transit the Suez Canal, had seen an 85% drop in activity due to the Houthi action.[69]

On 26 December 2023, Houthis said they carried out drone attacks on Eilat and other parts of Israel.[70] The US shot down 12 drones and 5 missiles fired by them, and the IDF said they also shot down a projectile launched from Yemen, targeting Israel, over the Red Sea, off the coast of the Sinai Peninsula.[71] On 26 December, India deployed the destroyers INS Mormugao and Visakhapatnam in the Arabian Sea after an Israel-affiliated merchant vessel was struck off the Indian coast. The navy was investigating the nature of the attack on the vessel, MV Chem Pluto, which docked in Mumbai on Monday, and initial reports pointed to a drone attack, a navy statement said. The Pentagon said on Saturday that a drone launched from Iran struck the Chem Pluto in the Indian Ocean. The Foreign Ministry of Iran denied the US accusations and called them "baseless". The vessel's crew included 21 Indians and 1 Vietnamese citizen.[72][73][74]

January 2024

Map of the airstrikes

On 4 January, just hours after the warning, Houthis launched an unmanned surface vessel (USV) towards US Navy and commercial vessels, but it detonated well over a 1 nanometre (1.0×10−12 km) from the ships.[75]

On 7 January, the Houthi movement stated that retaliatory attacks against the US Navy would continue unless the US hands over the Navy servicemembers who killed the 10 Houthi attack boat personnel for them to stand trial in Yemen.[76] On 7 January the Pakistan Navy deployed two Tughril-class frigates, PNS Tughril and Taimur in the Arabian Sea following "recent incidents of maritime security."[citation needed]

On 10 January, a large-scale attack was initiated by the Houthis against USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS Gravely, USS Laboon, USS Mason and HMS Diamond, in which at least 21 UAVs and missiles were launched.[77]

On 11 January, US Navy SEALs raided a ship off the coast of Somalia which was bound to Houthi militants. Iranian-made missile components and other weapons, including air defense parts, were seized from the ship. The ship was then sunk and its crew of 14 people were detained. During the raid, a SEAL was pushed into the water by high waves and one of his teammates jumped in after him, causing both of them to go missing.[78][79] Both SEALs were declared dead by the US military after a 10-day search failed to locate them.[17]

On 12 January, the US and UK conducted airstrikes against over a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen with the support of multiple other countries,[80][81] just hours after the group's leader vowed that any American attack on its forces would "not go without a response".[82] The strikes were the first time Houthi targets in Yemen were targeted since the beginning of the Red Sea crisis.[83] More than 150 munitions and Tomahawk missiles struck 28 locations within Houthi-controlled areas. The Houthis said five of their fighters were killed and six others were injured.[84] A day later, the US performed another strike on a Houthi radar site in Sanaa.[85] On 14 January, American and British airstrikes were reported in Hodeida, and spy planes were reportedly spotted near the area. Reports also suggested that Israel was involved in the attacks.[86][87] The US issued a denial the same day.[88]

On 14 January, Houthis fired an anti-ship cruise missile from Hodeida in the direction of USS Laboon. The missile was shot down by a fighter jet before it could cause damage.[89]

On 16 January, the US struck four Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles as they were being prepared to target ships in the Red Sea.[90] The following day, a fourth round of US strikes hit 14 missiles across Houthi-controlled areas.[91][92] On 22 January, in the eighth round of strikes against Houthis, the US and UK conducted airstrikes against eight Houthi targets in the vicinity of Sanaa airfield.[93][94]

On 21 January 2024, the French frigate Alsace joined defence operations in the Red Sea after transitting through the Suez Canal, reinforcing French assets deployed in the area in the face of Houthi attacks against international shipping.[95][96][97]

On 24 January, Houthi claimed to have attacked US destroyers and other warships in the Red Sea. This attack supposed to be in response to Operation Poseidon Archer [simple]. Houthi claimed to have directly hit a US destroyer with a missile during the attack.[98][better source needed] This attack was denied by the United States government.[99]

On the night of 26 January to 27 January, the French frigate Alsace came to the aid of an oil tanker on fire in the Gulf of Aden, alongside Indian and American destroyers INS Visakhapatnam and USS Carney. The fire suffered by the Marlin Luanda tanker was caused by a missile fired from Yemen. It was brought under control after 20 hours, with no casualties sustained.[100][97]

On 29 January, Danish frigate HDMS Iver Huitfeldt departed from the Korsør naval base for the Red Sea to assist the US-led coalition in safeguarding commercial traffic against Houthi attacks.[101] On 31 January, top European Union diplomat Josep Borrell announced that the bloc plans to start a naval mission to protect merchant shipping in the Red Sea within the following three weeks, and officials stated that seven EU member states were prepared to provide military equipment.[102] An adviser to Borrell stated that the mission's launch date should be 19 February. Borrell added that the mission would be called 'Aspides', which translates to protector.[103]

February 2024

On 2 February, the Houthis claimed that they had fired a ballistic missile towards Eilat. The IDF also said that the Arrow defense system intercepted a missile over the Red Sea.[104] On 3 February, a day after conducting airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, the US and UK conducted strikes against 36 Houthi sites, which included underground facilities, UAV storage and operation sites, missile systems, radars, and helicopters in 13 different locations across Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen in an attempt to degrade their capabilities. Houthi official Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti stated that they would "meet escalation with escalation" in response to the bombings.[105]

On 8 February, German frigate Hessen departed from Wilhelmshaven for the Red Sea with about 240 people on board in order to assist the upcoming EU mission.[106]

On 10 February, Houthi official media listed the names of 17 fighters that were killed during joint US–UK strikes. The announcement came following public funerals held in Sanaa.[15]

On 15 February, the US Army announced that the Coast Guard seized a vessel originating from Iran and was bound for Houthi-controlled Yemen on 28 January. The US Army said the vessel was carrying advanced weapons and other "lethal aid". It had more than 200 packages containing ballistic missile and naval drone components, explosives, communications gear, and anti-tank missile launcher parts.[107]

On 19 February, the European Union announced the start of the naval mission Operation Aspides, which plans to send warships and provide early airborne warning systems to the Red Sea and surrounding waters. The launch was confirmed by Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Tajani. France, Germany, Italy and Belgium all announced their intention to contribute to the operation. Operation Aspides will be headquartered in Larissa, Greece. The operation is not allowed to attack pre-emptively, and will only fire on Houthis if they attack first.[108] The operation will only operate at sea, and will not conduct or participate in military strikes.[109] The same day, Houthis claimed they shot down an MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Red Sea. US officials confirmed the incident, adding that the drone belonged to the US Air Force and crashed off the coast of Hodeidah.[110]

On 20 February, France announced that it shot down two Houthi drones over the Red Sea, while CENTCOM announced the downing of ten bomb-carrying drones and a cruise missile targeting the USS Laboon.[111] Houthis claimed that they attacked Eilat and a number of American warships in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea with drones.[112]

On 22 February, the Houthis' Humanitarian Operations Coordination Center sent statements to shipping insurers and firms announcing a formal ban on vessels owned or partially owned by Israeli, British, or American entities or individuals in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Arabian Sea. The ban also included vessels sailing under the flags of the mentioned nations.[113][114] The statement came as the Houthis launched drones and ballistic missiles targeting Eilat and an American destroyer in the Red Sea, though none of them struck their target according to authorities. However, the Houthis successfully fired two missiles at a Palau-flagged cargo ship named Islander which sparked a fire and wounded one sailor on board the vessel, though the ship continued its transportation route.[115] Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi also said in a statement that operations in the Red Sea and surrounding waters were continuing, escalating and effective, and announced the introduction of "submarine weapons" without giving further details.[116]

Houthi attacks on commercial vessels

Bab-el-Mandeb transits by cargo vessels
over 10,000 deadweight tonnage (approx.)
[117]

         Before attacks

         After first Houthi ship seizure/attack (19 November 2023)

         After naval protection operation started (18 December 2023)

         After US/UK attack on Yemen mainland (12 January 2024)

100
200
300
400
500
600
45 Week in 2023
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
1 Week in 2024
2
3
4
5
6

On 19 November, the car transporter Galaxy Leader was hijacked by the Houthis, with 25 individuals on board.[118] The empty car transporter en route to India was boarded using a Mil Mi-17 helicopter.[119] The incident followed a statement by Houthi spokesman Yahya Sarea on the group's Telegram channel, declaring their intention to target ships owned, operated by Israeli companies, or carrying the Israeli flag.[120] According to the ship's owner, the vessel was then moved to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.[121] Sarea also urged countries to remove their citizens from crews of such ships. Earlier, Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi had threatened further attacks against Israeli interests, including potential targets in the Red Sea and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. His speech emphasized the group's capability to monitor and target Israeli ships in these regions.[122]

On 24 November 2023, Iran allegedly attacked the CMA CGM Symi, a Malta-flagged container ship in the Indian Ocean.[123] A drone was shot down over the Red Sea by an IDF fighter jet.[124]

On 26 November 2023, the Liberian-flagged MV Central Park, an oil tanker managed by Zodiac Maritime, was seized off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden. It carried a full cargo of phosphoric acid with 22 crew members consisting of Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, Georgian and Filipino nationals.[125] The destroyer USS Mason, along with a partner country in the multilateral anti-piracy operation CTF 151, conducted a visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) operation that facilitated the release of the Central Park and captured the hijackers on the ship following their attempted escape. The ship's crew was unharmed. The US military reported that in the early morning hours of the following day, two ballistic missiles were fired in the direction of the Mason and the Central Park from Houthi territory in Yemen and ended up in the Gulf of Aden.[126][127] The five hijackers, all suspected Somali pirates, were detained by the US Navy.[127][128]

On 3 December 2023, the United States Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Carney reportedly shot down three attack drones launched from Yemen that were approaching the ship. After shooting down the drones, the ship responded to a distress call by three commercial ships in the area (the Unity Explorer, Number 9 and Sophie II) which were under attack by ballistic missiles launched from Yemen.[129]

The Houthis claimed responsibility for two of the attacks. Houthi military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Sarea stated that one merchant vessel was hit by a missile and another by a drone while in the Bab el-Mandeb strait, without mentioning a warship.[129] A Pentagon source said that the attacks on Carney caused no injuries or damage.[130]

On 12 December 2023, the Houthis launched an anti-ship cruise missile attack against the Norwegian commercial ship Strinda, an oil and chemical tanker operated by the J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi company, while it was close to the Bab-el-Mandeb. The Strinda was on its way from Malaysia to Italy (via the Suez Canal). The attack caused a fire aboard the ship; no crew members were injured.[131][132] The ship was carrying cargo of palm oil. The French Armed Forces Ministry and US Department of Defense reported that the Languedoc shot down a drone targeted at the Strinda, and USS Mason also rendered aid. The Houthi attack on the Strinda was an expansion of its series of attacks against maritime shipping in the strait; the Houthis began to attack commercial vessels without any discernible tie to Israel.[132]

On 13 December 2023, Houthi rebels attempted to board the Ardmore Encounter, a Marshall Islands-flagged commercial tanker coming from Mangaluru, India and en route to either Rotterdam, Netherlands or Gavle, Sweden, but failed, prompting a distress call from the ship. They then targeted the tanker with missiles, which missed. USS Mason responded to the tanker's distress call and shot down a UAV launched from a Houthi-controlled area. The Ardmore Encounter was able to continue its voyage without further incident.[133]

On 14 December 2023, a Houthi-launched missile was fired at the Maersk Gibraltar, though it missed its target.[134] On 15 December 2023, Houthi spokesperson Yahya Sarea claimed responsibility for attacks on two Liberian-flagged vessels identified as MSC Alanya and MSC Palatium III. The Houthis fired naval missiles at the ships as they alleged they were traveling to Israel.[135]

On 15 December, it was reported that the Liberian-flagged Al-Jasrah, which is owned by Hapag Lloyd, caught fire after being hit by a Houthi-launched projectile while sailing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait.[136] On 16 December 2023, Royal Navy destroyer HMS Diamond shot down a drone over the Red Sea while it was targeting a commercial ship.[10]

On 18 December 2023, Houthis claimed to have launched attacks targeting two cargo vessels in the Red Sea near Mocha port, the MSC Clara and the Norwegian-owned Swan Atlantic. The Swan Atlantic's owner, Inventor Chemical Tankers, said its water tank was damaged in the attack and denied it has any Israeli ties.[137]

On 23 December 2023, Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles into the southern Red Sea, but no ships were hit. USS Laboon also shot down four UAVs that were heading toward it.[138]

On 26 December 2023, Houthis fired several naval missiles at the MSC United VIII in the Red Sea after it rejected three warning calls.[70] She reported several explosions near her.[139][140] She alerted a nearby coalition task force warship and engaged in evasive maneuvers as per her instructions during the attacks.[141][142]

The container ship Maersk Hangzhou, owned by A.P. Moller Singapore Pte. Ltd. and in service with Maersk Line, was attacked over two days in late December. On 30 December, she was hit by a land-based missile, suffering only limited damage and no casualties. The following day, four small Yemeni gunboats attempted to attack and board the ship. The Maersk Hangzhou's own security team repelled them. Responding to her distress call, helicopters were deployed from USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Gravely, which were then engaged by the Houthis. They returned fire and sank three of the boats, killing their crews (ten militants in all—the fourth boat withdrew), thus inflicting the first known casualties of the Red Sea Crisis.[143]

On 11 January, Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile into international shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden, which landed in the water near a commercial vessel, causing no damage or injuries.[144]

On 12 January, Houthis mistakenly targeted the MT Khalissa as it carried Russian crude oil based on outdated information linking it to the United Kingdom.[145] A missile was fired near the vessel as it sailed off the coast of Aden, causing no injuries or damage. Three small boats also tailed the vessel for over an hour.[146][147]

On 15 January, Houthis struck the MV Gibraltar Eagle with an anti-ship missile, causing a small fire on board. The attack [simple] did not cause injuries or significant damage. Another missile fired earlier failed in flight and crashed in Yemen.[148]

On 16 January, an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by the Houthis struck the MV Zografia, causing material damage but no injuries. The Greek owned and Malta flagged vessel, which came from Vietnam and was en route to Israel, was able to continue transiting the Red Sea.[149][150]

On 17 January, Houthis struck the US-owned bulk carrier MV Genco Picardy with a drone while it traversed the Gulf of Aden, causing minimal damage and no injuries to the crew.[151][152] The Indian Navy announced the following day that a warship in the region was diverted to rescue the ship's crew of 22 people.[153]

On 18 January, Houthis launched two anti-ship ballistic missiles at the MV Chem Ranger, which was traveling from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to Kuwait. The missiles landed in the water near the ship while it was traversing through the Gulf of Aden, and there was no reported damage or injuries. However, a Houthi post on social media claimed that they launched several naval missiles at the vessel, resulting in direct hits.[154]

US Forces and allies conduct joint strikes in Yemen, 22 January 2024

On 22 January, Houthis claimed they attacked the US military cargo ship MV Ocean Jazz, but did not state the location of the attack or if damage was caused. However, the claim was rejected by the US Naval Forces Central Command.[155]

On 24 January, a Houthi missile exploded on the sea about 100 meters off the starboard side of the US flagged, owned, and operated container ship Maersk Detroit. This ship and the Maersk Chesapeake, both in the US Maritime Administration's Maritime Security Program and Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement were carrying US Department of Defense, US Department of State, USAID, and other US government agency cargo from Oman, and accompanied by US Naval vessels while they were near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait transiting north. Two other missiles were shot down by the USS Gravely (DDG 107). Following the incident, the two vessels were ordered back to the Gulf of Aden by US Navy instruction with Navy escort and Maersk Line Limited, a subsidiary that sails primarily US government-owned goods, suspended all sailings in the Red Sea.[156][157][158]

On 26 January, a Houthi ballistic missile fired toward the USS Carney was shot down.[159] The same day the Marlin Luanda, an oil tanker operated by British company Oceonix Services on behalf of Trafigura, carrying Russian-produced naphtha, was hit by a missile as it traversed the Gulf of Aden. A Houthi spokesperson said the ship was targeted in response to "American-British aggression against our country". The attack, which the UK Maritime Trade Operations reported occurred 60 nautical miles southeast of Aden, directly hit the ship causing a fire in a cargo tank on the starboard side. The crew used firefighting equipment to put out the fire. None of the ship's crew was injured.[160][161]

On 28 January, HMS Diamond intercepted a Houthi drone targeting it.[162] The following day, Houthis claimed they struck the USS Lewis B. Puller with a missile in the Gulf of Aden. An American defense official rejected the claim.[163] The UKMTO reported the same day that a merchant vessel was suspiciously approached by three small boats, who got as close as one nautical mile, 44 nautical miles west of Al-Mukha. The merchant vessel's security crew fired warning shots to deter the small boats, and the vessel was able to safely proceed to its next port of call.[164]

On 30 January, a Houthi missile targeting USS Gravely came within a mile of the naval vessel before being intercepted, the closest any Houthi attack has come to a US warship.[165] The following day, the Houthis claimed they targeted an American merchant ship named Koi with several naval missiles. The security firm Ambrey said the same day that a merchant vessel reported an explosion on its starboard side 69 nautical miles (128 km; 79 mi) southwest of Aden, but it was not stated if it was the Koi.[166] The USS Carney also shot down three Iranian drones and one Houthi missile over the Gulf of Aden.[167]

On 6 February, Houthis claimed they successfully attacked a British and an American ship in the Red Sea, which they identified as the Morning Tide and Star Nasia, respectively. Neither ship received major damage. Ambrey reported that a Barbados-flagged British ship received minor damage to its port 57 nautical miles (106 km; 66 mi) from the coast of Hodeidah, and the UKMTO said that it also received reports that the port side of a ship was struck by a projectile west of Hodeidah and a small craft was seen nearby.[168] The second ship, which the UKMTO identified as a Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned vessel originating from the US and en route to India, was attacked off the coast of Aden. It reported an explosion 50 meters off its starboard side.[169]

On 12 February, Houthis fired two missiles at the Star Iris while it was traveling south of the Bab el-Mandeb strait, claiming it was an American vessel without providing evidence. The attack caused minor damage to the vessel, but no injuries were reported. The Star Iris came from Brazil and was en route to Bandar Khomeini, Iran. It was able to proceed to its next port of call without further issue.[170]

On 16 February, the UKMTO reported that a Panama-flagged ship was targeted by a missile off the coast of Mokha. The ship's crew was unharmed, but the ship itself received minor damage from an explosion nearby caused by the missile.[171] Houthis later claimed responsibility for the attack, identifying the tanker as the Pollux and claiming they targeted it with a "large number of appropriate naval missiles". The US Department of State said the tanker was bound for India and was struck on its port side by a missile fired from Yemen.[172]

On 18 February, the Belize-flagged cargo ship MV Rubymar was attacked in the Bab el-Mandeb strait as she sailed from Khor Fakken, UAE to Varna, Bulgaria. Saree said the attack caused catastrophic damage to the vessel and forced her to a complete stop. He added that the ship was potentially at risk of sinking in the Gulf of Aden. The vessel's crew safely evacuated after the attack. Ambrey said the attack made the ship briefly slow down and deviate away from her course, before contacting the Djiboutian Navy and returning to her previous course and speed. The vessel remained afloat as of 8 am London time. CENTCOM said the attack on the Rubymar caused her to slowly take in water and leave behind a 29 kilometres (18 mi) oil slick, causing an environmental disaster. It added that she was carrying 41,000 tonnes of fertilizer at the time of the attack, which could spill into the sea if she were to sink, worsening the situation.[173]

On 19 February, a Greece-flagged bulk carrier requested for military assistance following a missile attack east of Aden.[174] Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, identifying the vessel as the Sea Champion. They added that another vessel called Navis Fortuna was also directly struck.[175]

On 22 February, Houthis fired two missiles at the cargo ship MV Islander as she traversed the Red Sea, causing a fire. CENTCOM announced that damage was done to the vessel and one person suffered minor injuries as a result of the attacks.[176]

Iranian involvement

According to Iranian officials who spoke to Reuters, Iranian personnel are present in Yemen, working in conjunction with Hezbollah militants. Their role involves directing and overseeing Houthi attacks on commercial shipping. The officials further stated that Iran has escalated its provision of advanced drones, anti-ship cruise missiles, precision-strike ballistic missiles, and medium-range missiles to the Houthis, since the outbreak of the Israel–Hamas war.[3]

According to US officials who spoke to Semafor, commanders and advisors from Iran's Revolutionary Guards are currently stationed in Yemen, and are directly involved in the Houthi attacks on commercial traffic in the Red Sea. Additionally, the IRGC has also stationed missile and drone trainers and operators in Yemen. The Qods Force, has overseen the transfer of the attack drones, cruise missiles, and medium-range ballistic missiles which have been used in the strikes on Red Sea and Israeli targets in recent weeks.[1]

According to Western intelligence officials, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have placed an intelligence gathering ship to guide Houthi attacks on ships that switch off radios and identifiers.[177] According to the Institute for the Study of War, this is likely the MV Behshad which had replaced the Saviz (which had been used to supply weapons and intelligence to the Houthis until it came under an Israeli limpet mine attack in April 2021).[178] The Iranian frigate Alborz later also entered the Red Sea.[179]

North Korean involvement

Voice of America reported that North Korea may have shipped weapons to the Houthis via Iran based on Hangul writing that was found on Houthi-launched missiles.[180]

War crimes

The Houthis have claimed they would target ships regardless of whether the ships contained any military targets, which according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) would constitute a war crime. The HRW also noted that the detention of captured crews could be considered hostage-taking if they are detained to compel a third party to do or abstain from any act as a condition for the hostage's release or safety. Hostage-taking is a violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime. A statement issued by the HRW called upon the militants to "end their attacks on civilians caught in the crosshairs of their declared war on Israel."[181]

Impact

Israel and Egypt

Houthi attacks have impacted shipping into Israel and local trade, with commercial shipping to the port of Eilat having almost completely ceased. Instead, commercial ships coming from Asia to Israel, as well as some commercial ships not destined for Israel, have started to go around Africa, which makes the journey around three weeks longer while increasing expenses.[182] By 21 December, over 100 container ships have been rerouted to go around Africa, each adding around 6,000 nautical miles to the trip distance.[183]

Another impact of Houthi involvement was that insurance costs for commercial ships that go through the Red Sea have increased; Israeli ships have seen an increase of 250%, and others were unable to get any insurance.[184]

While Israelis would face delays in the supply chain and price hikes, the effects on the Egyptian economy are more severe as shipping through the Suez Canal contributes nearly $9.4 billion to the Egyptian economy which is suffering from a debt crisis made worse by trade disruptions with Israel due to the war in Gaza.[185][186]

Global economy

Major shipping companies suspended ship traffic through the Red Sea due to the attacks, including MSC,[187] Maersk,[188] CMA CGM,[189] COSCO,[190] Hapag-Lloyd,[191] and Evergreen Marine Corporation.[192] On 18 December, the British multinational oil and gas company BP also suspended all shipments through the Red Sea.[192] Maersk, which holds about 14.8% of the market share in the global container shipping market,[193] announced on 25 December 2023 that it would resume operations soon as a result of Operation Prosperity Guardian.[194] By 30 December, Maersk had resumed Red Sea operations, but again paused them following the attacks on Maersk Guangzhou.[143] On 12 January, Tesla said it would suspend most production from its Grünheide factory, its only factory in Europe, for two weeks starting 29 January due to supply chain issues caused by Houthi attacks.[195][196] Volvo Cars also said it would halt production from its plant in Ghent for three days starting the following week.[197] Shell plc announced a hold on "transit" through the Red Sea.[198]

On 18 December, Evergreen Marine Corporation announced it was suspending its import and export service to Israel because of risk and safety considerations.[199][200] COSCO, the fourth largest shipping company, and its container shipping subsidiary OOCL similarly stopping all services to Israel in early January 2024.[201]

On 21 December, the chief executive of Eilat Port said the port has seen an 85% drop in activity since the Yemeni attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.[69][200] Many ships instead took a safer route, going around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope,[193] although this route incurs an extra ten days, spends more fuel, and requires more crew time.[202] The suspension of a large volume of trade through the Red Sea led to a decrease in use of the Suez Canal, and was thus a blow to the Egyptian economy.[193]

A considerable number of freighters have continued to transit, with mostly large container ships diverting away rather than other shipping, with the strait continuing to be heavily used by bulk carriers and tankers which are under different contract arrangements and often from countries supportive of Gaza's situation so perceiving a minimal risk from ongoing Houthi attacks.[203][204] In the first week of January 2024 the average number of freighters active each day in the Red Sea included 105 bulk carriers and 58 tankers, down from 115 bulk carriers and 70 tankers the week before.[205] In contrast, six of the ten largest container shipping companies were largely avoiding the Red Sea,[206] with relatively few container ships transiting the Bab al-Mandeb strait from 18 December 2023.[207]

Following China Ocean Shipping Company, the fourth largest shipping company, and its container shipping subsidiary OOCL stopping all services to Israel,[201] a senior Houthi official said in January 2024 that Chinese and Russian vessels not connected with Israel will have safe passage.[208]

As of January 2024, most marine insurers require a warranty of no Israeli involvement to insure vessels for the Red Sea route, with some requiring warranties of no US or UK interest and no calls to Israeli ports in the last 12 months.[209]

Qatar has halted tankers of liquefied natural gas through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait after US-led airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen increased risks in the strait. Considering that Qatar is Europe's second-largest supplier of LNG, the long-term suspension of exports has raised concerns as the winter season begins in Europe.[210]

On 16 January, the British multinational oil and gas company Shell suspended all Red Sea shipments indefinitely due to attacks on commercial vessels.[211] Some ships traveling through the Red Sea began broadcasting "No contact Israel" on their automatic identification system in response to a Houthi request to vessels without ties to Israel.[212][213]

Houthi attacks have held up shipments containing vital aid for Sudan and made it more expensive for humanitarian agencies to operate in the country, which has been the site of an ongoing armed conflict that put millions at risk of famine. Sudanese director of the International Rescue Committee Eatizaz Yousif said the attacks made shipments which normally take one or two weeks take months to reach the country, since shipping carrying aid en route to Port Sudan has been forced to navigate around Africa, traverse through the Mediterranean, and then enter the Red Sea via the Suez Canal to reach their destination.[214]

Reaction

Israel and Egypt

In a speech at a manufacturing exposition following the incident of 27 October, President of Egypt Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged all parties in the Israel–Hamas war to respect Egypt's sovereignty, and emphasized that the Egyptian Army was able to protect the country in case of any more attacks.[215]

In early December 2023, Israel called upon Western allies to respond to threats to maritime shipping from the Houthis; Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi said that if threats continue, "we will act to remove this blockade."[132] The Southern Transitional Council reportedly said in December 2023 that it was willing to cooperate with Israel to fight against the Houthis.[216] However, Al-Islah expressed support for the Houthi response to the Israel–Hamas war, despite its opposition to Houthi actions in the Yemeni civil war.[217]

Houthi response

On 25 January 2024, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi stated, "Our battle aims to support the Palestinian people, and has no other goals," and said that the Houthi's operations would cease once food and medicine was reaching all of Gaza.[218] On 30 January, Houthi commander Mohamed al-Atifi stated, "We are prepared for a long-term confrontation with the forces of tyranny."[219] A Houthi spokesperson stated on 4 February 2024, "When the world became alarmed by the bloodiness of what was happening against the Palestinian people, Washington was not ashamed to deny the occurrence of genocide. Anyone who can do that can easily deny the connection between what is happening in the Red Sea and Gaza."[220]

Operation Prosperity Guardian: American-led military coalition

While the US Navy has shot down Houthi rockets and missiles in the Red Sea, it has not retaliated against those firing them.[221][222] In December 2023, after discussions with allies, the US announced the creation of a multilateral naval task force of protective escorts for commercial vessels in the Bab-el-Mandeb strait and Gulf of Aden region.[222] The operation, codenamed Operation Prosperity Guardian,[223] was formally launched on 23 December 2023.[202] It is similar to past operations protecting commercial vessels from attack, including in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz during the "Tanker War" of the 1980s,[222] and the ongoing maritime security operations of Combined Task Force 153, the US Navy-led task force based in Bahrain.[193] The operation has also been compared to the successful multilateral naval campaign a decade earlier to combat Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa, although the Houthis, unlike the Somali pirates, enjoy Iranian support, and better equipment and technology, such as helicopters, drones, missiles, and speedboats.[224]

Independent naval patrols for maritime security

France, Italy and India have all independently sent naval assets to the region, with the French frigate Languedoc intercepting drones launched from a Houthi-controlled port while Italy has sent the frigate Virginio Fasan under the Secure Mediterranean operation.[9] India has also sent two Kolkata-class destroyers to strengthen maritime security in the Red Sea.[11]

Pro-Palestinian protests

In mid-January 2024, reports indicated that pro-Palestinian demonstrators in London voiced support for Houthi militants. This occurred shortly after the UK and the US initiated strikes on Houthi targets in response to the group's assaults on ships. Some demonstrators were observed chanting slogans like, "Yemen, Yemen make us proud, turn another ship around," while others displayed signs with messages such as "Hands off Yemen", "Thanks Yemen", and "UK+US wants war. Yemen supports Palestine. Gaza Wants to live".[225]

See also

Notes

  • 1 Saudi Arabia and Egypt have not joined the coalition against the Houthis, but they have shot down Houthi missiles over their own territory.
  • 2 The United States has deployed USS Carney, USS Laboon, USS Thomas Hudner and USS Mason.
  1. ^ Political legitimacy of all Houthi-led government bodies has been rejected by the United Nations, rival Yemeni factions, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the United States.
  2. ^ Multiple sources indicate that the Iranian government has deployed military personnel to Houthi-controlled Yemen who are actively involved in attacks on commercial shipping.[1][2][3]
  3. ^ Ten killed, 2 wounded on 31 December.[13] Five killed, 6 wounded on 12 January.[14] Seventeen killed on 10 February 2024.[15]

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