Houthis fire missiles at commercial ship in Red Sea in latest strike on vital trade route

Gunmen on speedboats approach two vessels in separate incidents as Iran-backed group increases attacks in key global shipping lane

A Houthi fighter walks on the beach with the Galaxy Leader cargo ship, seized by the Yemeni rebel group in the Red Sea last month, in the background. EPA
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Missiles launched from areas controlled by Yemen’s Houthi rebels were aimed at a cargo ship carrying jet fuel in the Red Sea on Wednesday, while a Houthi drone was shot down by a US warship.

The Ardmore Encounter suffered no damage during the attempted attack, and was reportedly carrying its cargo to Rotterdam from the Indian port of Mangalore.

The incident occurred near Bab Al Mandeb, a shipping chokepoint long-threatened by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, through which about 10 per cent of global seaborne oil is transported.

The USS Mason, a missile destroyer in the Red Sea, shot down a Houthi drone during the same attack.

US warships have on several occasions intercepted ballistic missiles and drones fired by the Houthis at Israel and vessels in the Red Sea, since the Hamas-Israel conflict began on October 7.

Also on Wednesday morning, gunmen in a speedboat approached two vessels in the Strait, the British maritime security Agency Ambrey said.

The British Maritime Trade Organsation also noted the “incident”, which took place off the Oman coast, saying it had received "multiple reports" of small craft "acting suspiciously in the vicinity of the Gulf of Aden."

The latest incidents follow an attack on Monday, when the Houthis struck a Norwegian vessel carrying sunflower oil from Malaysia to Italy with an anti-ship missile, although their spokesman Yehia Sarea said the vessel was headed towards Israel.

The group has recently attacked several other ships in the Red Sea, claiming they were linked to Israel.

The Galaxy Leader, a vehicle carrier, was seized by the Houthis last month, while three other vessels were struck by explosive projectiles in recent weeks – two of which were Panama-flagged and another that was Bahamas-flagged.

The Ardmore Encounter was Marshall Islands-flagged and carrying fuel from Shell MRPL Aviation Fuels and Services Ltd, a joint-venture with an Indian national oil company.

The Houthis have said they will continue on ships believed to be headed to Israel amid the continuing war in Gaza, where more than 18,400 people have been killed.

Updated: December 14, 2023, 5:48 AM