Houthis use drone boat for the first time to hit cargo vessel in Red Sea but US claims USV missed target

The attack came just hours after US issued a 'final warning' to the militant group

YEMEN-PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-PROTEST Members of the Yemeni Coast Guard affiliated with the Houthi group patrol the sea as demonstrators march through the Red Sea port city of Hodeida in solidarity with the people of Gaza | AFP

Ignoring the final warning issued by the US to stop attacks on ships in the  Red Sea, the Iran-backed militant group Houthis launched a drone boat,  for the first time since October 7, to strike cargo vessel Maersk Gibraltar on Thursday.

The Houthi rebels said the Maersk Gibraltar container ship was "targeted with a drone and the hit was direct." The militant group's spokesman Yahya Saree said the attack came after the ship’s crew "refused to respond to the calls of the Yemeni naval services" and that it was intended as retaliation for the "oppression of the Palestinian people."

The latest attack came one day after 12 countries including the US, UK,  and Japan issued a joint statement cautioning the Houthis of unspecified "consequences" unless it halts its attacks.

According to Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the head of US Navy operations in the Middle East, it was the first time the Houthis had used an Unmanned Surface Vessel or USV since the Israel-Hamas war began.  They have used USVs in the past against Saudi coalition forces that intervened in Yemen’s war. The USVs, a key part of the Houthi maritime arsenal, are suicide drone boats that explode upon impact. 

However, the US Navy claimed that the attack failed to cause any damage or casualties. Cooper added that the Houthi exploding boat drove out about 50 miles (80 km) into the Red Sea and then detonated in dense shipping lanes. "It came within a couple of miles of ships operating in the area - merchant ships and U.S. Navy ships - and we all watched as it exploded," Cooper told reporters, adding the target of the attack was not clear. 

Danish shipping giant Maersk confirmed no one was hurt in the incident involving its ship, which was sailing from Salalah in Oman to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. "The crew and vessel are reported safe," Maersk said in a statement, adding that the company was "still working to establish the facts of the incident."

Cooper added that despite the warning, there are "there are no signs that their irresponsible behaviour is abating", adding that there have now been 25 attacks by the Houthis against merchant vessels transiting the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

On whether Operation Prosperity Guardian might target Houthi positions with strikes to stop them from attacking ships, Cooper said that the 22-nation coalition was purely defensive. "Anything that happens outside of the defensive aspect of this operation is a completely different operation," he said. 

Though Houthis claim their attacks on commercial shipping target vessels with Israeli links or were sailing to Israel, the US claims many of the targeted vessels had no Israel connection. Cooper said the ships that have been attacked have direct connections to 55 countries. "So regardless of the vessel's company ownership or its destination, these Houthi attacks are for sure destabilising and contrary to international law and clearly ... must stop immediately," Cooper said.


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