US forces intercept wave of Houthi drone boats in Red Sea

Two naval coalitions have been trying to fend off attacks since late last year

Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class Brent Cavalier looks through binoculars aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason while the ship operates in support of Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea. Photo: US Navy
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US forces intercepted five Houthi drone boats and one flying attack drone in the Red Sea on Saturday, while a missile narrowly missed a commercial vessel, on Sunday in the Gulf of Aden.

The US Central Command, the US military headquarters in the Middle East, confirmed the attacks on Sunday morning, saying that air strikes on Houthi positions hit another drone before it was launched.

The attack on the unnamed civilian vessel, which caused no casualties, was reported by the UK Maritime Trade Organisation.

Sunday’s attack saw an explosive detonate near a ship in the Gulf of Aden, marking their latest assault on shipping through the crucial waterway.

UKMTO said the vessel's crew saw the blast as it passed off the coast of Aden. “No damage to the vessel has been reported and the crew are reported safe,” UKMTO said.

The US and UK, supported by several allies including Canada, Australia and Bahrain, have led air strikes on Iran-backed Houthi groups in Yemen since January 12, part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, to stop a blockade in the Red Sea, which carries about 12 per cent of global trade.

A separate but co-ordinated operation, Aspides, is led by the EU, which focuses on intercepting missiles and drones, but not direct strikes in Yemen.

Houthi attacks have fluctuated in size from waves of dozens of drones and missiles to one or two projectiles, as the US and UK increasingly target launching sites, rather than expending interceptor missiles that can cost several million dollars each to hit drones costing tens of thousands of dollars.

But a wave of five self-detonating drone boats will cause concern for coalition ships because they are difficult to detect under any conditions except calm waters.

Such exchanges have become frequent in the area, sending shipping insurance costs soaring and prompting many firms to detour around the southern tip of Africa.

On Thursday rebel leader Abdul Malik Al Houthi said the group would expand their attacks to ships taking the longer route around Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

The group has launched 40 attacks on commercial and military shipping in the Red Sea since November 19, when they began their campaign of attacks aiming to halt Israel's war in Gaza through global economic pressure. Thirty-five of the attacks have resulted in damage to ships.

One attack on the commercial ship True Confidence killed three sailors on March 6, the only fatal attack to date, while another vessel, the Rubymar sunk with no casualties on March 2.

The Rubymar, filled with 21,000 tonnes of fertiliser, has sparked fears of an environmental disaster in the Red Sea.

Updated: March 28, 2024, 12:09 PM