Missile Strikes Norwegian-Flagged Tanker in Red Sea off Yemen in Apparent Expansion of Terror Attacks

This picture shows the deck of the beleaguered Yemen-flagged FSO Safer oil tanker in the R
MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP via Getty

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A missile suspected to have been fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels slammed into a Norwegian-flagged tanker in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, a key maritime chokepoint, authorities said Tuesday.

The assault on the oil and chemical tanker Strinda expands a campaign by the Iranian-backed rebels targeting ships near 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.

The Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack, though rebel military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree said an important announcement would be coming from them soon.

The private intelligence firms Ambrey and Dryad Global confirmed the attack happened near the crucial Bab el-Mandeb Strait separating East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

Dryad Global and a U.S. defense official identified the vessel attacked as the Strinda, a Norwegian-owned-and-operated ship that had broadcast it had armed guards aboard as it went through the strait. The defense official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said it appeared a missile struck the vessel.

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.

Houthis Yemen Israel Palestinians

File/This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows a Houthi forces helicopter approaching the cargo ship Galaxy Leader on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. Yemen’s Houthis have seized the ship in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen after threatening to seize all vessels owned by Israeli companies. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, earlier reported a fire aboard an unidentified vessel off Mokha, Yemen, with all the crew aboard being safe. The coordinates of that fire correspond to the last known location of the Strinda.

The Houthis have carried out a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and also launched drones and missiles targeting Israel. In recent days, they have threatened to attack any vessel they believe is either going to or coming from Israel, though there was no immediate apparent link between the Strinda and Israel.

Analysts suggest the Houthis hope to shore up waning popular support after years of civil war in Yemen between it and Saudi-backed forces.

France and the U.S. have stopped short of saying their ships were targeted in rebel attacks, but have said Houthi drones have headed toward their ships and have been shot down in self-defense. Washington so far has declined to directly respond to the attacks, as has Israel, whose military continues to describe the ships as not having links to their country.

Global shipping has increasingly been targeted as the Israel-Hamas war threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even as a truce briefly halted fighting and Hamas exchanged hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The collapse of the truce and the resumption of a punishing Israeli ground offensive and airstrikes on Gaza have raised the risk of more sea attacks.

In November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeida. Separately, a container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean.

A separate, tentative cease-fire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government has held for months despite that country’s long war. That’s raised concerns that any wider conflict in the sea — or a potential reprisal strike from Western forces — could reignite those tensions in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

In 2016, the U.S. launched Tomahawk cruise missiles that destroyed three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory to retaliate for missiles being fired at U.S. Navy ships at the time.

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