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Houthis escalate Red Sea attacks on commercial shipping with strikes against three vessels

Latest attack sees Yemeni rebels attack three commercial ships as US Navy destroyer USS Carney intervenes again

The Houthis have escalated their Red Sea threat with four attacks on three commercial ships in a span of just seven hours. A spokesperson for the Houthis mentioned attacks on only two vessels, which it said were due to their links to Israel, but only one of the three appears to have any such links

HOUTHI rebels have attacked three commercial vessels within a span of about seven hours on Sunday in an apparent escalation of their belligerence in the Red Sea.

It is the latest in a string of attacks that were aimed at Israel-linked ships but that appears to have also targeted US Navy vessels, while two of today’s targets have no apparent connection to Israel.

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said USS Carney, a destroyer, responded to drone and missile attacks on three commercial vessels between 0915 hrs and 1630 hrs local time, shooting down three drones.

CENTCOM identified the ships as the Bahamas-flagged panamax bulker Unity Explorer (IMO: 9726035); the Panama-flagged, 4,250 teu boxship Number 9 (IMO: 9340752); and the Panama-flagged panamax bulker AOM Sophie II (IMO: 9881366).

According to CENTCOM, an anti-ship ballistic missile was fired at Unity Explorer around 0915 hrs from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, “impacting in the vicinity of the vessel”. A second missile fired about three hours later caused “minor damage”.

CENTCOM said on X, formerly known as twitter, that one of the drones it shot down was heading toward USS Carney, but could not assess whether the destroyer was its target.

Number 9 was struck by a missile fired from Houthi-controlled areas around 1530 hrs, and the vessel reported “damage and no casualties,” according to CENTCOM.

Finally, Sophie II sent a distress signal around 1630 hrs, stating the ship was struck by a missile. The responded and reported “no significant damage,” CENTCOM said. While en route to the vessel, the destroyer shot down a drone headed in its direction.

This was USS Carney’s second day of intercepting drones in less than a week, having shot down an Iranian-made drone while it was escorting a US-flagged merchant vessel and US Navy oiler in the Red Sea on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the Iran-backed Houthis, Yahya Sare’e, said the rebels’ attacks were directed at two Israel-linked ships traversing the Bab al-Mandab, which he identified as Unity Explorer, and Number 9. Sare’e made no mention of attacking a third vessel.

“The first Israeli ship was targeted by an anti-ship missile, while the second ship was targeted by a sea drone,” Sare’e said on X.

“The two ships were targeted after rejecting warnings from the Yemeni naval forces.”

UKMTO said in an advisory it was aware of an entity “declaring itself to be the Yemeni authorities” and ordering a vessel to alter course.

Unity Explorer is owned by Isle of Man-based Unity Group, which is led by its founder Danny Ungar, son of Israeli shipping magnate Rami Ungar. Galaxy Leader (IMO: 9237307), a pure-car-truck-carrier beneficially owned by the elder Ungar’s Ray Car Carriers was hijacked by Houthi rebels two weeks ago.

However, neither Sophie II nor Number 9 appear to have any clear links to Israel.

The Israel-linked ships have reportedly been switching off their Automatic Identification System transponders in the Red Sea. Lloyd’s List Intelligence data shows the last AIS signal from Unity Explorer is from several days ago, while both Number 9 and Sophie II had their AIS transponders on at the time CENTCOM said they were attacked.  

Number 9 is chartered by OOCL, operating on the Ocean Alliance’s Phoenician Express (BEX2) service, according to CMA CGM’s website. It is managed by Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM).

Sophie II is Japanese-owned and operated, and managed by a Philippines-based company, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence data.

A Unity Group spokesperson confirmed in a statement to Lloyd’s List that the Unity Explorer was among a “group of ships in the Red Sea which came under attack.”

“The attack caused no injuries to the crew and no damage to the ship, which is continuing on its journey as scheduled,” he said.

“The crew was made up of UK, Ukrainian and Filipino nationals.”

BSM said it is investigating the incident, and that all crew onboard the Number 9 are safe and accounted for.

“There are no reports of injuries or pollution, and the vessel is currently sailing,” the company said in an emailed statement to Lloyd’s List.

“Our priorities are to ensure the continued safety of the crew and vessel.”

CENTCOM said the attacks pose a threat to international commerce and maritime security and pointed a finger at Houthi sponsors.

“They have jeopardised the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world. We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran.”

“The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full co-ordination with its international allies and partners.”


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