SANAA, Yemen: US forces struck an anti-ship missile in Houthi-held Yemen that they said was ready to fire Saturday, hours after the Iran-backed rebels caused a fire on a British tanker in the Gulf of Aden with a similar munition.
US and British forces have launched joint strikes aimed at reducing the Houthis’ ability to target vessels transiting the key Red Sea trade route — attacks the rebels say are in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is at war with Hamas.
Washington has also carried out a series of unilateral air raids, but the Houthis have vowed to continue their attacks.
The US military’s Central Command, CENTCOM, said it had carried out another strike early Saturday on a Houthi “anti-ship missile aimed into the Red Sea and which was prepared to launch.
“Forces subsequently struck and destroyed the missile in self-defense,” it said on social media platform X.
The Houthis’ Al-Masirah television said the United States and Britain had launched two air strikes on the port of Ras Issa in Yemen’s Hodeida province, which hosts the country’s main oil export terminal.
There was no immediate confirmation from Washington or London, and the Houthis did not provide details on the attack or the extent of the damage.
The previous evening, the Houthis’ military spokesman Yahya Saree said missiles fired by the rebels had hit the Marlin Luanda, an oil tanker operated by a British firm on behalf of trading giant Trafigura Group.
“The strike was direct, and resulted (in) the burning of the vessel,” Saree said.
CENTCOM later confirmed the hit, saying it had started a “major fire.”
Other vessels had come to the ship’s assistance, including the USS Carney, the French Navy Frigate FS Alsace and Indian Navy Frigate INS Visakhapatnam.
“Thanks to this rapid response by the US, Indian and French navies, the fire is now extinguished,” it said in an update Saturday.
“There were no casualties in the attack, the ship remains seaworthy and has returned to its previous course,” it added, confirming an earlier statement from Trafigura.
In its statement, the company said that “no further vessels operating on behalf of Trafigura are currently transiting the Gulf of Aden.”
The Indian Navy said the Marlin Luanda has 22 Indians and one Bangladeshi onboard.
It said a fire-fighting team of 10 Indian naval personnel battled the blaze for six hours along with the ship’s crew before bringing it under control.
On Friday the Houthis also fired an anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen toward the Carney in the Gulf of Aden, CENTCOM said.
“The missile was successfully shot down by USS Carney. There were no injuries or damage reported,” it added.
The Houthis began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israeli-linked vessels to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
They have since declared US and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.
British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps on Saturday said his government remains “as committed as ever” to protecting freedom of navigation following the latest “intolerable and illegal” attack by Houthi rebels.
“It is our duty to protect freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and we remain as committed to that cause as ever,” he said.
The United States is leading a coalition to protect Red Sea shipping — an effort the Pentagon has likened to a highway patrol for the waterway.
Washington is also seeking to put diplomatic and financial pressure on the Houthis, redesignating them a “terrorist” organization last week after previously dropping that label soon after President Joe Biden took office.
The attacks by the rebels — who are part of an anti-Israel, anti-West alliance of Iranian proxies and allies — have disrupted trade in the Red Sea, which carries around 12 percent of international maritime traffic.
Several shipping firms are avoiding the waterway, instead taking the longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
This new pressure follows difficult years for the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, when freight rates reached unprecedented levels due to disruptions to supply chains.
Separately on Saturday, the Houthis released an 18-minute video showing fighters in military fatigues conducting military drills against hypothetical US and Israeli targets.
The video, published by one of the rebels’ military propaganda arms, showed fighters using rocket-propelled grenades to strike buildings, Humvees, and tanks adorned with US and Israeli flags.