DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A missile fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels slammed into a Norwegian-flagged tanker in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen near a key maritime chokepoint, the rebels and authorities said Tuesday.
The assault on the oil and chemical tanker Strinda expands a campaign by the Iranian-backed rebels targeting ships close to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait into apparently now striking those that have no clear ties to Israel. That potentially imperils cargo and energy shipments coming through the Suez Canal and further widens the international impact of the Israel-Hamas war now raging in the Gaza Strip.
Houthi military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree issued a video statement saying the rebels only fired on the vessel when it “rejected all warning calls.”
The U.S. military’s Central Command said an anti-ship cruise missile “launched from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen” hit the Strinda.
“There were no U.S. ships in the vicinity at the time of the attack, but the USS Mason responded … and is currently rendering assistance,” Central Command said. The Mason is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that has been involved in several of the recent incidents off Yemen.
France’s Armies Ministry separately said its frigate Languedoc shot down a drone that was “threatening” the Strinda during the attack near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which separates East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula and sees some $1 trillion in goods pass through it annually.
The French frigate “then positioned itself to protect the affected vessel, preventing an attempt to hijack the ship,” the French military said.
Geir Belsnes, the CEO of the Strinda’s operator, J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi, also confirmed the attack took place.
“All crew members are unhurt and safe,” Belsnes said. “The vessel is now proceeding to a safe port.”
The Strinda was coming from Malaysia and was bound for the Suez Canal and then on to Italy with a cargo of palm oil, Belsnes said. Saree alleged without offering any evidence that the ship was bound immediately for Israel. The website for the port of Ashdod in Israel listed the Strinda as potentially making a call there on Jan. 4.