Yemen’s Houthis threaten to hit US ships as more tankers steer clear

Yemen’s Houthis threaten to hit US ships as more tankers steer clear

by Reuters News Service

Yemen’s Houthi movement will expand its targets in the Red Sea region to include US ships, an official from the Iran-allied group said on Monday, as it vowed to keep up attacks after US and British strikes on its sites in Yemen.

Attacks by the Houthis on ships in area since November have impacted companies and alarmed major powers in an escalation of Israel’s more than three-month war with Hamas militants in Gaza. The group says it is acting in solidarity with Palestinians.

British and American ships had become “legitimate targets” due to the strikes launched by the two countries on Yemen last week, Nasruldeen Amer, a spokesperson for the Houthis, told Al Jazeera.

“The ship doesn’t necessarily have to be heading to Israel for us to target it, it is enough for it to be American,” Amer said. “The United States is on the verge of losing its maritime security.”

The Houthis previously said they would only target Israeli ships or those en route to Israel.

In the latest apparent attack, Houthi militants struck a US-owned vessel carrying steel products with an anti-ship ballistic missile on Monday.

The dry bulk carrier Gibraltar Eagle was struck while south of the Yemeni port of Aden, causing a fire in a hold but no injuries on board, operator Eagle Bulk Shipping said.

The ship was continuing on its way, it said.

Container vessels have been pausing or diverting from the Red Sea that leads to the Suez Canal, the fastest freight route from Asia to Europe. Many ship have been forced to take the longer route via the Cape of Good Hope instead.

Ship-tracking data on Monday showed at least 15 tankers altering course in response to the escalating conflict.

LNG Tankers

QatarEnergy, the world’s second largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), has joined those avoiding the Red Sea, a senior source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Qatar’s Al Ghariya, Al Huwaila and Al Nuaman LNG tankers loaded at Ras Laffan and were heading to the Suez Canal but stopped in Oman on January 14, LSEG ship-tracking data showed. The Al Rekayyat, which was sailing back to Qatar, stopped in the Red Sea on January 13.

“It is a pause to get security advice, if passing [through the] Red Sea remains unsafe we will go via the Cape,” the source told Reuters regarding QatarEnergy.

The Qatari government and QatarEnergy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

About 12 per cent of world shipping traffic transits the Suez Canal via the Red Sea.

The longer route round Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, which various shipping firms have opted for, can add about nine days to the normally 18-day trip from Qatar to northwest Europe.

The Houthis have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen for years, but have turned their sights on the sea to show support for Palestinian group Hamas.

On Sunday, the United States said its fighter aircraft had shot down an anti-ship cruise missile fired by the militants toward a US destroyer. No injuries or damage were reported, it said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

US ally the United Kingdom said it had no desire to be involved in Red Sea conflict but was committed to protecting free navigation.

“Let’s wait and see what happens,” Defence Secretary Grant Shapps told television station Sky News on Monday regarding potential further strikes on Houthi sites.

China also called for an end to attacks on civilian vessels in the Red Sea that have placed Beijing’s commercial interests at risk.

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