Houthi Missiles Target French-Owned Container Ship In Red Sea (Updated)

Three missiles, which all missed, were fired from Yemen at a container ship transiting the Bab el-Mandeb Strait on its way to Egypt.

byHoward Altman|
A French-owned, Malta-flagged container ship was targeted by Houthi missiles Tuesday.
Stocktrek Images via Getty Images
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A French-owned, Malta-flagged container ship became the latest target of an attack by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia on Tuesday. Three missiles were fired at the ship from Yemen, but it was not hit, according to the Ambrey Analytics maritime security firm. Ambrey declined to name the vessel targeted during the incident.

The attack occurred around 10 p.m. local time and took place about 15 miles southwest of Mocha, Yemen, in the Bab al-Mandab Strait. The explosions were observed about one to five nautical miles from the ship according to the Royal Navy’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO). 

There was no official response from the Houthis. The Pentagon is aware of the reports of the attack but had no further comment, a Pentagon spokesman told The War Zone.

The vessel was traveling to Alexandria, Egypt at the time of the attack and the ship’s master was overheard calling for assistance from a coalition warship, according to Ambrey.

The ship was bound for Alexandria, Egypt, when it came under attack. (Google Earth image)

After the ship’s crew saw the explosions, another vessel reported seeing a small boat within a mile of the location.

“It was advised to treat this boat with caution as it may have been used to assist the targeting,” Ambrey stated.

This latest incident comes two days after U.S. Navy helicopters were fired upon by Houthi raiding craft while responding to a distress call from a cargo ship. The helicopters fired back, sinking the boats and killing 10 Houthi fighters. Just hours before that engagement, USS Gravely shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles during an assault on the Maersk Hangzhou, which was struck by a weapon while traveling in the Southern Red Sea, according to U.S. Central Command. You can read more about this series of events in our initial reporting here.

In the wake of the Dec. 30 attack on the Maersk Hangzhou, the Maersk shipping company on Tuesday said it was pausing all transits through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden "until further notice."

"An investigation into the incident is ongoing and we will continue to pause all cargo movement through the area while we further assess the constantly evolving situation," Maersk said in a statement. "In cases where it makes most sense for our customers, vessels will be rerouted and continue their journey around the Cape of Good Hope. The latest information is available on our diversion and contingency plans page."

Amid the growing tension in the region, Iran on Monday said it sent the destroyer Alborz into the Red Sea.

"Since 2009, Iranian warships have been operating in open waters to secure shipping lines, fight against pirates and carry out other missions," the official Iranian FARS news outlet reported. "The warship, overhauled and equipped with state-of-the-art systems, joined the Iranian Navy's fleet in 2019. The flotilla's arrival in the Red Sea comes amid rising tensions following Yemen’s retaliatory attacks on Israeli-owned and -bound vessels in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip."

As the Alborz was entering the Red Sea, the U.S. Navy announced that the Ford carrier group would making a scheduled return to its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, after two months in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Pentagon first announced the Ford carrier group was headed to the region on Oct. 8 in the wake of the deadly Hamas surprise attack on Israel.

The redeployment was scheduled so that the strike group can "prepare for future deployments," according to U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa. The Ford was expected to head home soon after two deployment extensions for the carrier's first major cruise.

Earlier on Tuesday, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, presented combat medals to the crew of the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Carney. Cooper also presented the entire crew with Combat Action Ribbons. The awards were for the crew's actions Dec. 16, when they shot down 14 Houthi drones in the Red Sea.

While these attacks continue, there has still been no kinetic response on Houthi facilities in Yemen.

The Sunday Times reported that the U.K. is readying a series of air strikes alongside the U.S. and possibly other European countries. It claimed that the U.S. and the U.K. would make a joint statement warning the Houthis to stop their attacks or face a kinetic response. That would serve as a final warning before strikes are ordered, the publication reported, however, no such statement was issued.

As we reported previously, the U.S. is "discussing all kinds of different strike packages against the Houthis, including radar facilities and installations,” a U.S. military official told The War Zone Dec. 21.

Meanwhile, the status of the newly formed Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multi-nation effort to bolster maritime security in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab, remains in flux.

As we reported Sunday: "while small convoy operations appear to have occurred, there have no large multinational combined operations that have been observed. With multiple partners that are sending ships not being willing to put their vessels under U.S. control, the exact amount of coordination, and what ships each country is willing to provide security for, remains unclear."

We will continue to monitor this tense situation and will provide updates when warranted, especially if there is any kind of kinetic response on Houthi facilities in response to the ongoing attacks.

Update 11:37 PM Eastern -

In a statement released on Twitter, CENTCOM said the Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) into the southern Red Sea. Multiple ships reported their impact into the surrounding water. This was the 24th attack against merchant shipping in that area since Nov. 19.

It happened around the same time the crew of the French-owned container ship reported seeing explosions in the water, but it is unclear whether this is the same incident. We've reached out to CENTCOM to find out and we will update this story if any additional details are provided.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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