Houthis Fired Ballistic Missiles into Red Sea, Iranian Drone Strikes Merchant Ship Off India, Says Pentagon

December 23, 2023 9:00 PM - Updated: December 24, 2023 11:26 PM
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58) breaks away concluding a replenishment-at-sea July 3, 2023. US Navy Photo

Houthi forces in Yemen fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles into shipping lanes in the Red Sea and launched drone attacks at two merchant tankers in the region, U.S. Central Command announced late Saturday.

Gabon-owned and Indian-flagged crude tanker MV Saibaba was hit with a one-way attack drone launched from Yemen while Norwegian-flagged MV Blaamanen reported a drone that missed the chemical tanker, according to the statement.

According to CENTOM, the attacks on Saibaba and Blaamanen were the 14th and 15th attacks on merchant traffic in the region since their start. Houthi forces began firing at assets its leaders said were connected to Israel in solidarity with Hamas on Oct. 17.

U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58) responded to the distress calls of both ships.

Laboon also downed four unmanned aerial drones as part of its Operation Prosperity Guardian role.

Operation Prosperity Guardian is a multi-national push to ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden under the structure of the existing Combined Task Force 153, according to the statement from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last week.

The task force includes United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, Spain, Greece and Australia.

While the task forces was presented as U.S.-led, Reuters reported that Spain, Italy and France were not operating under direct U.S. control.

Over the weekend, French frigate FS Languedoc began escorting French ships through the Red Sea, according to ship spotters.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Thursday that not all participants of Operation Prosperity Guardian would be public and declined to say what ships were participating in the effort.

As of Monday, the U.S. sent aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and its escorts to the Gulf of Aden while three to four U.S. guided-missile destroyers have been operating in the Red Sea.

Attacks on merchant shipping expanded beyond the Red Sea and into the Indian Ocean yesterday with the Pentagon’s claim that the drone strike on a chemical tanker 200 nautical miles off the coast of India was launched from Iran.

According to the Pentagon press release, a one-way attack drone was launched from Iran and hit the Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned, and Netherlands-owned MV Chem Pluto. The resulting fire was put out by the crew, made up of 21 Indian and one Vietnamese nationals. While there were no U.S. vessels nearby to render assistance, CENTCOM was in communication with Chem Pluto following the attack.

Indian Navy and Coast Guard vessels and aircraft promptly responded to the stricken merchant ship, including the Kolkata-class destroyer INS Mormugao (D67). Under escort from the Indian Coast Guard offshore patrol vessel ICGS Vikram (33), Chem Pluto is currently in transit to Mumbai for further investigation and damage assessment. The chemical tanker is expected to reach the Indian port by Dec. 25.

While it is not known if India is participating in Operation Prosperity Guardian, Indian media reported the deployment of destroyers INS Kochi (D64) and INS Kolkata (D63) to the Red Sea last week.

USNI News contributor Aaron-Matthew Lariosa contributed to this report. 

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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