Houthis Claim to Launch Missile at Merchant Ship as Red Sea Attacks Continue

December 14, 2023 7:32 PM - Updated: December 15, 2023 2:09 PM

Houthi forces claimed responsibility for a failed missile attack on a Hong Kong-flagged ship on loan to shipper Maersk Thursday in the latest attack in the Red Sea.

Houthis claimed responsibility for the weapon launched toward at Maersk Gibraltar on Thursday, according to Saba, the Yemen state-run news agency. Yahya Sare’e, the spokesman for the Houthi military, said in a statement that the missile hit Gibraltar, according to Saba, but other news organizations, including The Washington Post, reported that a defense official said the missile missed the commercial ship.

Following an earlier version of this post, U.S. Central Command said on Friday a ballistic missile was fired into the international shipping lane.

“Midday Dec. 14 (Sanaa time), a ballistic missile was fired from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen toward the international shipping lane north of the Bab-el-Mandeb. There were no injuries or damage,” reads the statement.
“Following the missile launch, the M/V Maersk Gibraltar was hailed by the Houthis, who threatened further missile attacks. The M/V Maersk Gibraltar is a Hong Kong-flagged cargo container vessel.”

Gibraltar was sailing from Salalah, Oman, to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said Mikkel Linnet, head of Maersk’s global media relations. Gibraltar‘s schedule, available on Maersk’s website, does not list any port calls in Israel, despite the Houthis saying in a statement that the ship was going to Israel.

The Houthis have said they will attack any ships that are connected to Israel or travel to or from the country. Maersk currently operates Gibraltar, which is a time charter vessel owned by Seaspan, Linnet said in his email to USNI News. A possible connection to Israel or an Israeli businessman, such as with other ships attacked by the Houthis, was not immediately known. Seaspan has partnered with an Israeli shipping company in the past.

“Maersk is deeply concerned about the incident involving the MAERSK GIBRALTER while the vessel was traveling from Salalah, Oman to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The crew and vessel are reported safe. We are currently working to ascertain the full details of the incident. Ensuring the safety of our crew and vessel is our utmost priority, and all necessary security measures are being implemented to protect them,” Linnet said in his email.

In light of the attack on a Maersk ship, the company is asking for a solution to the spate of attacks in the Red Sea.

“The recent attacks on commercial vessels in the Bab al-Mandab Strait are alarming and pose a significant threat to the safety and lives of seafarers,” Linnet said. “This issue cannot be addressed by the global shipping industry alone, and we urge the international society to come together to find a swift resolution to bring the situation under control.”

Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder did not have any announcements about a proposed maritime partnership with 39 nations to build a maritime coalition force in the Red Sea to protect ships. The Pentagon has said the U.S. is considering such a joint maritime operation, which would be different from the already established Task Force 53, but the Department of Defense has not provided details about what the combined maritime task force would do.

“So if you think about the combined maritime forces, it is a coalition of 39 nations that can come together to support various regional security and stability requirements around the region to include safety of transiting the water will international waterways in the Red Sea,” Ryder said.

It will be up to the individual countries to determine how much they participate in and what they do for the combined maritime task force, Ryder said.

“This is an international problem, and it requires an international solution. All of this is underscored by the fact that we recognize the tensions in the region right now. And we want to continue to stay very focused on ensuring that this does not broaden into a wider regional conflict,” Ryder said.

The attack on Gibraltar comes a day after USS Mason (DDG-87) shot down a Houthi-launched drone while responding to a distress call from Motor Vessel Ardmore Encounter, according to U.S. Central Command.

Ardmore Encounter is owned by Ardmore Shipping Corp., according to Bloomberg. Israeli businessman Idan Ofer is a minority stakeholder, according to Bloomberg’s reporting.
Houthi forces first attempted to board the ship, according to Central Command. When that was unsuccessful, the Houthis fired two missiles at the ship, but both missed the target.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations reported an advisory Thursday saying a vessel claiming to be the Yemeni Navy ordered a ship to change course and head to Yemen. It is likely that this advisory concerned Maersk Gibraltar.

As a result of the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, some shipping companies are sending their ships around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, instead of through the Suez Canal, a decision that will be more time-consuming and likely more costly, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in an article.

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

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