Houthis Hit Tanker with Missile in Red Sea, French Frigate Downs Drones

December 12, 2023 6:19 PM
Bab-el-Mandeb, Gate of Tears, strait on April 10, 2017. The strait connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, and separates Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. NASA Photo

Houthi forces attacked a Norwegian bio-diesel tanker in the Red Sea on Monday – just days after the spokesman for its military said the organization would target any ships heading to or from Israel.

Motor Tanker Strinda was passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait that connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, when it was hit by what U.S. officials called an anti-ship missile that caused a fire aboard the ship, U.S. Central Command said in a post on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

The U.K. Maritime Trade Operations reported that the attack occurred just north of the strait, about 15 nautical miles west of the Yemeni port of Mocha. 

French guided-missile frigate FS Languedoc (653) shot down a drone while patrolling nearby, Naval News reported.

Languedoc which was patrolling the area intercepted and destroyed a drone directly threatening the Strinda. The FREMM then placed itself in protection of the affected vessel, preventing the attempt to hijack the ship,” reads a Naval News translation of the French Navy statement on the incident.
“The fire on board the Strinda was brought under control. No injuries were reported. The USS Mason then escorted the Strinda to the Gulf of Aden out of the threat zone. Languedoc has resumed its patrol towards the North.”

“The FREMM then placed itself in protection of the affected vessel, preventing the attempt to hijack the ship,” the French said in a statement, according to Naval News

While there were no U.S. ships in the area during the attack, USS Mason (DDG-87) moved toward the Norwegian ship in order to provide assistance, according to Central Command. Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Tuesday that Mason stayed in the area to deter more attacks. 

Strinda was headed to Venice, Italy, from Malaysia, Sal Mercogliano, a professor at Campbell University and a maritime expert, wrote in a series of posts on X. The tanker was scheduled to make a port visit to Ashdod, Israel, in January. 

In a series of posts on X, Yahya Sare’e, spokesperson for the Houthi military, said the ship’s planned visit to Israel made it a target based on Sare’e’s Dec. 9 message stating the Houthis will attack any commercial ship that goes to or from Israel. 

Languedoc was also attacked by Houthi drones Saturday, USNI News reported

While the French said the frigate was under attack on Saturday, the Pentagon has maintained that the Houthis have not attacked the U.S., despite Navy ships shooting down numerous drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. 

It’s not clear if the Houthi drones are targeting U.S. Navy ships or merchant ships in the Red Sea, Ryder said, using the example of drones fired toward USS Carney (DDG-64) when it has responded to merchant ship distress calls. 

“What you don’t want to do is let it hit you and then say, ‘Oh, yes, I guess they were trying to attack us.’ So again, we’re going to be circumspect in that when we say we don’t know if it was the intended target, but we do know that it presented a potential threat and we’re going to take appropriate action,” Ryder said.

According to the French Navy, on Saturday, Languedoc downed the drones with an Aster 15 – a short-range air defense missile with a range just over 20 miles, a much shorter range than 100-mile-plus range of the Standard Missile 2s that U.S. ships have used to down similar drones. Defense officials have told USNI News over the last several weeks that destroyers in the Red Sea have preferred to take out the drones when they’re operating at a longer distance from a ship. 

In a spirit spot released for the Army-Navy football game, the Navy said Carney has so far shot down 22 drones or missiles while operating in the Red Sea. 

The U.S. will come to the assistance of the French if asked, Ryder told reporters, but it does not have a responsibility to respond because an attack in the Red Sea is not covered under NATO. 

“It’s not a NATO operation, per se,” Ryder said. “Clearly, France is a close ally. And should they ask for our support or call on us to support them. We will obviously respond and be there to help but again, it’s not a NATO mission, as I understand it.”’

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox