French-owned container ship in Red Sea targeted by Houthi missiles

Maltese-Flagged Container Ship Attacked by Iran-Backed Militia

A French-owned, Maltese-flagged container ship became the latest target of an attack by the Iran-backed Houthi militia on Tuesday. Three missiles were fired at the ship from Yemen, but it was not hit, according to the maritime security company Ambrey Analytics. Ambrey declined to name the ship that was attacked during the incident.

The attack occurred around 10:00 p.m. local time and took place about 24 kilometers southwest of Mocha, Yemen, in the Bab al-Mandab Strait. The explosions were observed between one and five nautical miles from the ship, according to the Royal Navy’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO).

There was no official response from the Houthis. The Pentagon is aware of reports of the attack but had no further comment, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The ship was traveling to Alexandria, Egypt, at the time of the attack and the ship’s captain was heard calling for help from a coalition warship, according to Ambrey.

After the ship’s crew saw the explosions, another ship reported seeing a small boat about a mile from the scene. “It was recommended to treat this vessel with caution as it could have been used to assist in targeting,” Ambrey said.

Recent Attacks and Escalating Tensions

This latest incident comes two days after US Navy helicopters were fired upon by Houthi attack ships while responding to a distress call from a cargo ship. The helicopters responded, sinking the boats and killing 10 Houthi fighters. Just hours before that engagement, the USS Seriously shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles during an assault on Maersk Hangzhou, which was hit by a weapon while traveling through the southern Red Sea, according to US Central Command. After the attack on the Maersk Hangzhou on December 30, the shipping company Maersk announced that it was pausing all transits through the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden “until further notice.”

“An investigation into the incident is underway and we will continue to halt all cargo movement through the area while we further assess the evolving situation,” Maersk said in a statement. “In cases where it makes the most sense for our customers, ships will be diverted and continue their journey around the Cape of Good Hope.”

Amid rising tension in the region, Iran said Monday it sent the destroyer Alborz towards the Red Sea. “Since 2009, Iranian warships have been operating in open waters to protect sea lines, fight pirates and carry out other missions,” the Iranian media outlet FARS reported. “The warship, refurbished and equipped with state-of-the-art systems, joined the Iranian Navy’s fleet in 2019. The flotilla’s arrival in the Red Sea comes amid rising tensions following Yemen’s retaliatory attacks against “Israeli-owned and destined vessels in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

As the Alborz was entering the Red Sea, the US Navy announced that the Ford carrier group was scheduled to return to its home port of Norfolk, Virginia, after two months in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The redeployment was timed so the strike group can “prepare for future deployments,” according to U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa. The Ford was expected to return home shortly after two deployment extensions for the carrier’s first major cruise.

Earlier on Tuesday, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, presented combat medals to the crew of the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Carney. Cooper also presented the entire team with combat action tapes. The awards were for the crew’s actions on December 16, when 14 Houthi drones were shot down in the Red Sea.

Potential Responses and Security Measures

While these attacks continue, there has yet to be a kinetic response against Houthi facilities in Yemen. The United Kingdom is preparing a series of airstrikes together with the United States and possibly other European countries, with discussions of different strike packages being held within the US military.

As we previously reported, “While small convoy operations appear to have occurred, large multinational combined operations have not been observed. With multiple partners sending ships unwilling to put their ships under US control, the exact amount of coordination and which ships each country is willing to provide security remains unclear.”

As the situation continues to evolve, updates will be provided as necessary, especially if there is any type of kinetic response on Houthi installations in response to the ongoing attacks.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com