Yemen's Houthis claim strike on Greek ship headed to Israel

Washington accuses Tehran of supplying militia with weapons used in strikes on shipping

The US military's Central Command said it had seized a vessel carrying Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen's Houthis in the Arabian Sea. AP
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Yemen's Houthis have claimed a “direct hit” on a Greek-owned commercial vessel heading to Israel through the Red Sea on Tuesday.

The Houthis “carried out a targeted operation against the ship … after its crew refused the calls from the naval forces, as well as repeated fiery warning messages”, militia spokesman Yahya Sarea said.

The Maltese-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier MT Zografia sustained material damage, but there were no injuries after it was hit near the Yemeni Red Sea port of Saleef, a security firm and two sources within the Greek shipping ministry said.

The US military confirmed the Houthis launched the attack.

"M/V Zografia, a Maltese-flagged bulk carrier reported they were struck but seaworthy and were continuing their Red Sea transit," the US Central Command (Centcom) said in a statement, adding that no injuries were reported.

Earlier in the day, British maritime security company Ambrey said the vessel was hit with a missile in the Red Sea, 140km north-west of Yemen's port city of Saleef.

The vessel was sailing without cargo from Vietnam to Israel and no one was injured in the attack, one of the Greek shipping ministry sources said.

The attack came on the same day that US forces struck several Houthi targets.

US forces destroyed four Houthi missile launchers in Yemen early on Tuesday, a US defence official confirmed.

The launchers were deemed to be an imminent threat to “commercial and US forces’ vessels in the area”, the official told The National.

The strike was considered successful, the official added, confirming an earlier report by Reuters.

The Iran-backed Houthis have increased attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, affecting a vital shipping route.

The Houthis, who control most of Yemen's Red Sea coast, have claimed that their attacks on commercial ships are in support of Palestinians amid the Israel-Gaza war, and that the vessels they have attacked have all been linked to Israel.

They have pledged to expand the scope of their targets in the Red Sea region to include US ships, and to keep up attacks after US and British forces carried out dozens of air strikes last week against the Houthis' radar and missile capabilities.

In response, some shipping companies have instructed vessels to instead sail round southern Africa, a slower and therefore more expensive route.

The Houthi attack on the MT Zografia is the second missile strike on a commercial vessel in two days, one of nearly 30 Houthi assaults on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since October.

It comes as Centcom, the US military headquarters in the Middle East, gave details of a Navy Seals special forces mission on January 11 that captured an array of Houthi weapons from a dhow heading to Yemen.

Centcom said two Navy Seals went missing during the operation.

It also described seizing a cache of missile guidance systems and motors for medium-range ballistic missiles, as well as anti-air defence equipment, which it said confirmed Iran's role in supporting the militia.

“We are conducting an exhaustive search for our missing teammates,” said Gen Michael Kurilla, US Centcom Commander.

“It is clear that Iran continues shipment of advanced lethal aid to the Houthis. This is yet another example of how Iran actively sows instability throughout the region in direct violation of U.N Security Resolution 2216 and International law,” he added.

Conflict in the Red Sea

The US and Britain launched air strikes on Houthi military positions across Yemen last week, pledging to protect free navigation in the Red Sea, while simultaneously risking further escalation in the region as the Israel-Gaza war rages on.

The targets included weapon depots, radar sites and command centres, including those in remote mountain areas, the US said.

The American military on Friday evening said it had conducted a “follow-on” strike on a Houthi radar site.

The US Navy warned American-flagged vessels to steer clear of areas around Yemen in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden for at least 72 hours after the initial air strikes.

The Iran-backed rebels, who control the capital Sanaa, in northern Yemen and parts of the Red Sea coast, said five of its members were killed in the “barbaric” strikes.

On Sunday, US fighter planes shot down a cruise missile fired by the Houthis at one of its warships in the Red Sea, in the first such attack since US and UK missiles struck the Iran-backed group.

On Tuesday, a Houthi spokesman said the announcement by a number of shipping companies to suspend operations, citing the high risk of traversing the Red Sea, was the result of US pressure.

In a statement, Mohammed Abdulsalam said their claims of high risk were inaccurate and “only matches with the US propaganda”.

“There are hundreds of ships crossing Bab Al Mandeb every day,” he said.

He reaffirmed his group's position that there is no ban on any ship except those linked to Israel or heading to Israeli ports.

Updated: January 16, 2024, 6:21 PM