Houthi missile attack on cargo ship kills two – US officials

  • By Tom Spender, Joshua Cheatham & Frank Gardner
  • BBC News

image caption,

Owner of a Barbados-flagged bona fide trust registered at an address in Liberia (file photo)

US officials say a Houthi missile attack on a cargo ship in southern Yemen has killed two crew members – the first deaths from the group's attacks on merchant vessels.

Barbados-flagged True Hope has been abandoned and is afloat with fire on board, managers said.

It struck in the Gulf of Aden at around 09:30 GMT, they added.

The Houthis say their attacks were carried out in support of the Palestinians in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

In a statement, the pro-Iran group said the group of True Faith had ignored warnings from the Houthi navy.

The British embassy in Yemen said the sailors' deaths were a “sad but unavoidable consequence of the Houthis' reckless firing of missiles at international ships” and urged an end to the attacks.

All six crew members were injured, a US official told CBS, the BBC's US partner.

The attack occurred 50 nautical miles (93 km) southwest of Aden, Yemen, a spokesman for the ship's owners and managers said in a statement.

Following the attack, Houthi-run Al-Masira TV reported on Wednesday evening that two US-led airstrikes targeted the international airport in the Houthi-held Red Sea port city of Hudaydah.

According to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency, True Hope was hailed on VHF radio by a group calling itself the “Yemen Navy”.

Nearby ships then reported a loud noise and a huge plume of smoke.

The UKMTO said the True Confidence was hit and damaged, and naval vessels from the US-led International Maritime Alliance were supporting the ship and its crew.

The European Union's Maritime Safety Center-Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) said further rescue and recovery operations were underway.

A spokesman for the ship's managers said they did not have information on the condition of the ship's crew of 20 sailors and three armed guards.

The Houthis said in their statement that the True Hope was a “US ship”, but a spokesman said the ship had “no current connection with any US entity”.

A US State Department spokeswoman said Washington would continue to hold the Houthis accountable and that governments around the world should do the same.

“The Houthis continue to carry out these reckless attacks without regard for the well-being of innocent civilians passing through the Red Sea, and now they have unfortunately and tragically killed innocent civilians,” said Matthew Miller.

“We condemn the Houthis' reckless and indiscriminate attacks on shipping worldwide and demand they stop,” UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said.

“We will continue to stand up for freedom of navigation and back up our words with actions,” he posted on social media.

True Confidence is owned by True Confidence Shipping SA, registered at an address in Liberia and operated by Third January Maritime Limited in Greece, he said.

However it was previously owned by US-based Oaktree Capital Management, AP reported. Oaktree declined to comment to the AP.

The ship had a crew of 20 including one Indian, four Vietnamese and 15 Filipino nationals. Three armed guards – two from Sri Lanka and one from Nepal – were on board.

The bulk carrier was traveling from Lianyungang, China to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, the data found, and was carrying a cargo of steel products and trucks, the spokesman said.

After nearly four months of drone and missile attacks by the Houthis against shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, a deadly attack may be inevitable, the British embassy said.

A US-led naval task force in the region has been shooting down many of these missiles and drones, but there are too many to destroy each of them.

The Houthis seem to have an inexhaustible supply of them. It calls into question the effectiveness of a US-led airstrike campaign targeting Houthi launch sites, ammunition depots and command and control positions.

Now that Houthi attacks have become deadlier, there are calls to step up retaliation against them, expanding the range of targets in Yemen. But the humanitarian situation in Gaza risks escalating in an already tense region.

The Houthis say they are carrying out the attack in support of the Palestinians. The US, UK, Bahrain and many other countries have demanded an immediate end to Houthi attacks on shipping.

On Tuesday, US forces shot down a ballistic missile and three drones on the USS Carney, a destroyer off Yemen, followed by three anti-ship missiles and three maritime drones.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy on Monday helped put out a fire aboard the container ship MSC Sky II, which said its operator was hit by a missile that caused a small fire and was uninjured.

On Sunday, the Belize-flagged cargo ship Rubimar sank in the Red Sea, two weeks after it was hit by missiles fired by the Houthis. It was the first ship to be sunk since Houthi attacks began in November.

When attacked, Rubimar was near the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea. The crew was rescued and the ship slowly began taking on water.

It was carrying a cargo of 21 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which the US military said posed an environmental hazard in the Red Sea.

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