Explosion Rocks Saudi Frigate Operating Off Yemeni Coast

It looks as if Houthi rebels on Yemen’s Red Sea coastline are up to their old tricks again: attacking warships operating near the Mandeb Strait. The last attack came in mid October, and it was aimed against the amphibious assault ship USS San Antonio and the USS Mason, an American Arleigh Burke class destroyer acting as a picket ship in the critical waterway. Mason and other US Navy ships had been attacked multiple times over a two week period, and had launched counter attacks against missile and radar sites along the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel-controlled coastline. The US Navy ships’ presence in the region was originally the result of a deadly anti-ship missile strike on the UAE operated high-speed logistics catamaran HSV-2 Swift.

The ship shown in the a video supposedly posted by Houthi rebels, depicts what appears to be a French-built, 2,600 ton displacement al Madinah class frigate, which belong the Royal Saudi Navy, being attacked within visual range of the cameraman. After a massive fireball engulfs the stern of the ship, it can be seen smoking from the same area where the detonation took place.

If the video was taken near the rebel-controlled port city of Mokha as it is claimed, the ship was obviously operating in a very active and hostile waterway and known anti-ship missile engagement zone. Although these frigates are over 30 years old (here is the best picture of one I could find), they have defenses against incoming anti-ship missiles, including a Crotale point air defense system and a series of decoys and electronic warfare capabilities. They also have a 100mm and 40mm deck guns and small arms to defend themselves from swarming small boat attacks. It is unclear if any of these weapons and countermeasures were activated during the attack, nor if the attack came from a missile or an explosives-packed small boat. 

It is also worth noting that Mokha is presently under siege by Yemeni government forces, and that Iranian-built advanced (relatively) weapons have been used by the rebels in a desperate attempt to fend off the attack. A Saudi-led coalition warplane destroyed an Iranian-built drone just last Saturday in the besieged town. 

The fate of the ship, and its crew of over 170 sailors, is also unknown at this time. If the video proves to be authentic there is a chance lives, or even the vessel as a whole, were lost in the attack. If any of this proves true it could have massive military repercussions and result in deepening of a conflict that is already as brutal as it is dizzyingly complex.

We will keep this page updated for 24 hours as new information becomes available. 

Update- 3:05pm PST: Saudi state news claims the attack came from three small boats, while Iranian state news claims it was an anti-ship missile. Also, preliminary reports state that two sailors were killed and three injured in the attack and that the ship is still afloat. 

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler’s passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.