Houthis say 10 killed as US Navy repels attack on Maersk Hangzhou in Red Sea

Helicopters destroyed several small boats that were approaching the vessel after US earlier shot down two anti-ship missiles

The Maersk Sentosa container ship sails south to exit the Suez Canal in Suez, Egypt, on December 21. Bloomberg
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The US Navy said it destroyed several small boats that were attempting to attack a merchant vessel in the Red Sea, US Central Command said on Sunday.

Centcom said that the Iran-backed Houthi group sent four boats to attack the Denmark-owned and operated, Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou container ship on Sunday.

It had responded to a distress call and sent helicopters to defend the ship.

The Maersk Hangzhou was approached by small boats, which came within 20 metres of it, before gun men fired at the ship and attempted to board, prompting an exchange of fire with its security, the statement said.

The rebels also shot at the helicopters, which returned fire “in self-defence, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews”, said Centcom.

The fourth boat fled the area, it added, and there was no damage to US personnel or equipment.

The Houthis confirmed the incident on Sunday. The group said 10 members of its naval forces had been killed by the US when it destroyed the three boats.

The Houthis said that the Maersk Hangzhou had been headed for Israel and vowed to continue attacks on Israeli-bound shipping in support of Gaza.

The Maersk Hangzhou had earlier been hit by a missile as it crossed the south of the Red Sea, according to Centcom.

The USS Gravely and USS Laboon responded to the Singapore-flagged ship, it said, following the attacks, which took place at 9.30pm UAE time on Saturday.

“The vessel is reportedly seaworthy and there are no reported injuries,” it said.

US forces intercepted two other anti-ship ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis against the ship.

The attacks prompted the Maersk to respond by suspending shipping in the Red Sea for 48 hours from Sunday afternoon.

The Houthis, who control much of Yemen, have disrupted world trade for weeks with attacks on ships passing through the Bab Al Mandeb at the southern end of the Red Sea in what they say is a response to Israel's war in Gaza.

This marks the 23rd attack by the Houthis on international shipping since November 19, Centcom said. The US and several other nations have formed a maritime task force to respond to the Red Sea attacks.

Also on Saturday, the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) organisation said it had received a report of an incident in the Red Sea about 55 nautical miles south-west of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, Reuters reported.

The master of the unidentified ship reported “a loud bang accompanied by a flash on the port bow of the vessel” and several explosions in the vicinity of the area, the UKMTO said.

No damage was reported and all crew were said to be safe. The vessel has now cleared the area at full speed to the next port of call, it said.

Several shipping lines have suspended operations through the Red Sea in response to the attacks, instead taking the longer journey around Africa.

Yemen's Houthis release footage of cargo ship seizure

Yemen's Houthis release footage of cargo ship seizure

The Houthis have vowed to continue their attacks until Israel halts the conflict in Gaza, and warned that it would attack US warships if the militia group itself was targeted.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on Sunday he had spoken to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and told him that Iran must stop the Houthi's attacks.

“I made clear that Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks, given their long-standing support to the Houthis,” he said in a post on social media site X, adding that the attacks “threaten innocent lives and the global economy”.

Iran's proxy groups in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon have increased attacks in the region to show solidarity with Gaza, which has been under Israeli bombardment following Hamas's attack that killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, in Israel on October 7.

In Iraq, Tehran-allied Shiite militias have been attacking US forces both in the country and neighbouring Syria with drones and rockets because of Washington's support for Israel in the war. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has been engaging with Israeli troops on the borders.

Updated: December 31, 2023, 5:05 PM