Houthi drones in 'warning strike' on tanker in first attack since Yemen truce expired

Incident involving explosive-laden drones meant to prevent pro-government forces from exporting oil

A military drone is launched from an unknown location in Yemen in February. Reuters
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Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed they attacked a cargo ship at an oil terminal in the south of the country as a “warning strike” on Friday.

It was the first military action announced by the Iran-backed Houthis since a truce between Yemen's warring sides expired on October 2.

The Houthis said the attack by explosive-laden drones was meant to prevent pro-government forces from using the port for oil exports.

The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Nissos Kea was the target. The Greek owners said it was undamaged.

The incident happened in Ash Shihr, near the Yemeni city of Mukalla, about 585 kilometres east of the rebel-held capital of Sanaa in territory held by pro-government forces for years.

The Nissos Kea’s owner, Okeanis Eco Tankers Corp in Athens, said there were “two drone-driven explosions in proximity” as it tried to load at the port.

The attack happened near the Yemeni city of Mukalla, about 585 kilometers east of the rebel-held capital of Sanaa.

Ash Shihr’s port has a crude oil pipeline that has a capacity of 300,000 barrels a day.

“Neither explosion impacted the vessel. All crew is safe and unharmed,” the company said. “There was no damage to the vessel and no pollution.”

Satellite data analysed by AP showed the Nissos Kea far off Yemen’s coast in the Gulf of Aden in international waters and sailing away towards Oman on Saturday.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors Middle East sea traffic, acknowledged “an incident” off Ash Shihr on Friday, but only said the ship and its crew were safe. The US Navy’s Middle East-based 5th Fleet did not respond to questions about the attack.

Attack could damage peace talks

The Yemeni government denounced the attack and said “all options are open in dealing with this terrorist action”.

It said the attack could affect any further peace talks.

The government said the strike was the third in recent days by Houthi drones on shipping in their territory after another ship was targeted on Tuesday and Wednesday night in the port of Radoum, in the central part of Yemen’s coast on the Gulf of Aden.

The UAE strongly condemned the attack, calling it a dangerous escalation and blatant defiance to the international community and efforts made to end the Yemeni crisis.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation called the attack a flagrant violation of international laws and norms, which required a deterrent response to all that threatens the security, safety, and lives of civilians, Yemeni economic interests, and global energy supplies and pathways.

The ministry urged the international community to unite efforts and take a decisive stance to stop the crimes committed by the Iran-backed Houthis, paving the way for a comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen and a return to a political process that leads to achieving peace, security, and stability in the country.

UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg condemned the attack as “a deeply worrying military escalation”, and called for renewing the truce.

“At this critical juncture, I call on the parties to show utmost restraint and double their efforts to renew and expand the truce and lay the groundwork for a permanent ceasefire, and activating a political process to end the conflict,” Mr Grundberg said.

“I reiterate that all parties must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has condemned the attack, calling it a blatant violation of the Security Council Resolution number 2216 and international laws and norms.

“This attack is an escalation from the Iran-backed Houthi militia after the expiry of the UN-brokered deal in Yemen,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the kingdom supports Yemen’s internationally recognised government and UN efforts aimed at extending the truce and reaching a political solution to the crisis.

Egypt said that the Houthis must immediately respond to international and regional efforts to renew the truce in Yemen.

The war in Yemen, between the Houthis and pro-government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition, has raged since 2015.

The Houthis occupied northern Yemen and the country’s capital in 2014 and forced the internationally recognised government to flee into exile to Saudi Arabia the following year.

Members of Houthi military forces parade in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida in Yemen in September. Reuters

Since then, more than 150,000 people have been killed in the violence and three million have been displaced. Two-thirds of the population requires food assistance.

The initial two-month truce agreed to on April 2 by the government and the Houthis was extended twice, until October 2.

Since then, the US and UN have blamed the Houthis for a breakdown in efforts to extend the ceasefire yet again.

One of the main obstacles to a truce is the use of Yemen’s resources. The Houthis maintain that oil produced in Yemen should not be allowed to be exported by the cash-strapped government side.

Updated: October 23, 2022, 4:09 AM