The ongoing attacks on vessels in the waters around the Red Sea are putting the lives of innocent seafarers at risk as Houthis in Yemen used ever more sophisticated weapons to disrupt trade.
John Stawpert, senior manager, Environment and Trade, at the International Chamber of Shipping told Emerging Risks that the results of missile attacks on merchant vessels has the potential to be devastating.
His comments came after Houthis launched missiles and drones at three merchant vessels and one US Navy vessel on Sunday.
US Central Command issued a statement which said its vessel USS Carney had gone to the aid of vessels which had come under missile attack in international waters off of the coast of Yemen.
“There were four attacks against three separate commercial vessels operating in international waters in the southern Red Sea. These three vessels are connected to 14 separate nations. The Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer USS Carney responded to the distress calls from the ships and provided assistance.”
It added: “ The Carney detected an anti-ship ballistic missile attack fired from Houthi controlled areas of Yemen toward the M/V Unity Explorer, impacting in the vicinity of the vessel.”
The Command spokesperson continued: “While in international waters, Carney engaged and shot down a UAV launched from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen. The drone was headed toward Carney although its specific target is not clear. We cannot assess at this time whether the Carney was a target of the UAVs. There was no damage to the US vessel or injuries to personnel.”
In a third attack the Unity Explorer reported they were struck by a missile fired from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen. Carney responded to the distress call. While assisting with the damage assessment, Carney detected another inbound UAV, destroying the drone with no damage or injuries on the Carney or Unity Explorer. Unity explorer reports minor damage from the missile strike.
The M/V Number 9 was then struck by a missile fired from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen while operating international shipping lanes in the Red Sea. The Panamanian flagged, Bermuda and U.K. owned and operated, bulk carrier reported damage and no casualties.
An hour later the M/V Sophie II, sent a distress call stating they had been struck by a missile. Carney again responded to the distress call and reported no significant damage. While enroute to render support, Carney shot down a UAV headed in its direction. Sophie II is a Panamanian flagged bulk carrier, crewed by sailors from eight countries.
“These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security,” the spokesperson added. “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 coordination with its international allies and partners.”
Stawpert said: “At preset the threat is still being targeted at vessels the Houthi believe have Israeli links, but they are going far down the chain to establish those links.
“One bit of solace is this means that the majority of the world fleet is not being targeted.”
However he added: “Despite this it is despicable that they are targeting innocent seafarers who are going about their business and supporting global trade.”
Stawpert said the attacks are similar to those undertaken by the Houthis during the civil war where they used missiles, drones and waterborne improvised explosive devices against ships and facilities linked to the Saudi backed coalition.
On the future he said: “I do not think we will see vessels being escorted through the area unless there was a wider general threat. If things continue for some time, we may well see more grey hulls in the area. The reporting and response capabilities which were created to tackle the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Aden are still in place so it is vital that if there are any incidents, they are reported quickly toit he authorities.”
Stawpert added: “The overriding concern is the welfare of the seafarers. Drome and missile attacks are very different for merchant vessels to protect themselves from.
“The effect of such attacks in merchant vessels can be devastating.”
A UK government spokesperson condemned the attacks adding that the Royal Navy is to increase its presence in the region.
“The United Kingdom condemns the attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Houthi militants,” they said. “As we’ve previously stated, Iran has long provided military and political support to Houthi militants and it bears responsibility for the actions of its proxies and partners.
“These waters are vital routes for global trade and incidents like these show the importance of the Royal Navy’s presence in the region, which we announced last week would be bolstered by the additional deployment of HMS Diamond to join HMS Lancaster.
“The UK is committed to ensuring the safety of shipping in the region, including through our contribution to the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).”