A U.S. destroyer shot down three drones while assisting commercial ships in the Red Sea targeted by attacks from Yemen on Sunday (December 3rd), Washington said, denouncing "a direct threat" to maritime security.
Earlier, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels announced that they had carried out an "operation" against "Israeli ships in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait" – a strategic waterway linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden – in retaliation for the Israeli army's war against Palestinian Hamas in Gaza.
Today (Sunday) there were four attacks on three separate commercial vessels operating in international waters south of the Red Sea," the U.S. Middle East Military Command (Centcom) said in a statement. "The destroyer ... USS Carney responded to distress calls from the ships and provided assistance," shooting down three drones that were heading toward the warship during the day, he said.
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"Direct threat to international trade and maritime security"
The destroyer detected a missile, fired from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen, that landed near a Bahamas-flagged ship, the Unity Explorer. The cargo ship later reported minor damage from another missile from a rebel-held area. Number 9, a Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier, said it was damaged by a missile from Yemen, but there were no casualties. The Sophie II, of the same flag, said it was also hit, but did not suffer any significant damage.
For Centcom, these attacks represent "a direct threat to international trade and maritime security". "We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, although launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are entirely funded by Iran," Centcom said. "The United States will consider all appropriate responses in close coordination with our international allies and partners.»
The Houthi rebels' claim of responsibility only mentions the attack on two boats - the Unity Explorer and the Number 9 - one targeted with a "missile", the other "with a drone", the statement said, after the ships "rejected the warning messages" of the Houthis. The rebels will continue to target Israeli ships "until Israeli aggression against our brothers in the Gaza Strip stops," they said.
Earlier on Sunday, maritime security firm Ambrey reported that a British cargo ship had been hit by a rocket attack in the Red Sea, "about 34.5 km west-northwest of Mocha, Yemen."
The crew reportedly retreated" to a secure area of the boat, the maritime security company added. According to Ambrey, the ownership and management of the attacked vessel was linked to Dan David Ungar, a British citizen listed as an Israeli resident in the UK's main business directory. The British maritime safety agency UKMTO said it had received a report of drone activity, "including a potential explosion", "in the vicinity of Bab el-Mandeb" from Yemen. It had advised vessels in the area to "exercise caution".
The incidents come amid heightened tensions in the Red Sea after Houthi rebels seized the Galaxy Leader merchant ship with its 19 crew members on November 25. The Galaxy Leader is owned by a British company owned by an Israeli businessman. The rebels are part of what they call the "axis of resistance" against Israel, along with Iranian-backed groups such as the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
They launched a series of drones and missiles in the direction of Israel and many of the devices were intercepted by Israeli defenses or American warships. The increase in maritime incidents prompted the foreign ministers of the G7 countries (United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan) to urge the rebels to stop threatening international shipping and to release the Galaxy Leader and its crew at a meeting last week.