Crew abandon ship off Yemen as Houthis claim new missile attack

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The Houthis said they had targeted the the Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo ship Rubymar (file photo)
By David Gritten & Joshua Cheetham
BBC News

The crew of a commercial vessel in the Gulf of Aden abandoned ship after an attack claimed by Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, authorities say.

A Houthi military spokesman said the Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo ship Rubymar was at risk of sinking after being hit by missiles.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations agency said an unnamed ship was abandoned off Yemen after being damaged by a blast.

Lloyd’s List Intelligence reported that the Rubymar was hit by two missiles.

The Iran-backed Houthis have launched dozens of missile and drone attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since mid-November, in what they say is a show of support for the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The attacks have prompted many shipping companies to stop using the critical waterway, which accounts for about 12% of global seaborne trade.

US and British forces began carrying out air strikes on targets across Houthi-controlled western Yemen in response last month.

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On Sunday night, UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said it had received a report of an incident from a ship about 35 nautical miles (65km) south of the Yemeni Red Sea port of Mocha.

The master had reported “an explosion in close proximity to the vessel resulting in damage” at about 23:00 local time (20:00 GMT), it added.

Early on Monday, the agency cited military authorities as reporting that the crew abandoned the vessel following an attack.

“Vessel at anchor and all crew are safe,” it said. “Military authorities remain on scene to provide assistance.”

British maritime security firm Ambrey separately reported that a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship had come under attack in the Bab al-Mandab Strait on Sunday as it sailed northwards.

“The partially laden vessel briefly slowed from 10 to six knots and deviated course, and contacted the Djiboutian Navy, before returning to her previous course and speed,” it said.

Ambrey also reported that the ship’s crew had been evacuated by another merchant vessel, and that this was consistent with the movements of a Singaporean-flagged container ship.

Data provider Lloyd’s List Intelligence said the Rubymar was hit by two missiles and severely damaged.

According to data from MarineTraffic, which last received a tracking signal on Sunday, the Rubymar had been travelling from Saudi Arabia to Bulgaria.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea announced in a statement on Monday morning that its naval forces had fired a number of missiles at “a British ship” in the Gulf of Aden, which he identified as the Rubymar.

“The ship suffered catastrophic damage and came to a complete halt,” he said, without providing any evidence.

“As a result of the extensive damage the ship suffered, it is now at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden. During the operation, we made sure that the ship’s crew exited safely.”

The Rubymar flies under the flag of Belize and its registered owner is Golden Adventure Shipping, with an address in the English port of Southampton.

Ambrey also said it was aware that a Greece-flagged, US-owned cargo ship had called for military assistance following a “missile attack” about 100 nautical miles east of the southern Yemeni port of Aden.

UKMTO reported an attack in the same area. It cited the master as saying there had been an explosion in close proximity to an unnamed ship and that the vessel and crew were safe and well.

Mr Sarea also said Houthi air defences in the Red Sea province of Hudaydah had shot down a US MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) “while it was carrying out hostile missions against our country on behalf of [Israel]”.

There was no immediate comment from the US military.

US Central Command said its forces had carried out five strikes against three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, one unmanned underwater vessel (UUV) and one unmanned surface vessel (USV) in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen on Saturday after determining that they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.

It was the first time that US forces had identified a UUV, or submarine drone, being employed by the Houthis since the attacks began.

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