Three Cargo Ships Hit By Houthi Missiles, U.S. Destroyer Downs Drones

USS Carney downed three drones Sunday and came to the aid of two commercial vessels struck by Houthi missiles in the Red Sea

byHoward Altman|
The USS Carney attacked a Houthi radar site in Yemen.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Xavier Jimenez/Released)


Missiles fired from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen struck three commercial ships in the Red Sea Sunday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney responded to distress calls from two of those vessels and downed three drones approaching it.

The incidents began about 9:15 a.m. local time when the Carney detected an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) launched toward the Bahamas-flagged bulk carrier M/V Unity Explorer, according to CENTCOM. It landed near the bulk carrier, said CENTCOM. We do not know what kind of ASBM was used but you can read about what types Houthis have via Iran here.

At about 12 p.m., the Carney engaged and shot down a drone launched from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen, according to CENTCOM. It was headed toward the Carney, "although its specific target is not clear," said CENTCOM. "We cannot assess at this time whether the Carney was a target." There was no damage to the U.S. vessel or injuries to personnel.

For the second time since October, the USS Carney shot down Houthi drones. (US Navy photo)

A little more than a half-hour later, the Unity Explorer reported being struck by a missile fired from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen. The Carney responded to the distress call. While assisting with the damage assessment, Carney detected another inbound drone, destroying it with no damage or injuries to the Carney or Unity Explorer, which reported minor damage from the missile strike.

There were two more missile attacks on commercial vessels Sunday, according to CENTCOM.

At about 3:30 p.m. the M/V Number 9 was struck by a missile fired from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen while operating international shipping lanes in the Red Sea, according to CENTCOM. The Panamanian flagged, Bermuda and U.K. owned and operated, bulk carrier reported damage and no casualties.

About an hour later, the Panamanian flagged bulk carrier M/V Sophie II sent a distress call stating it was struck by a missile. Carney again responded to the distress call and reported no significant damage. While en route to render support, Carney shot down another drone headed in its direction. “This represents an escalation,” a U.S. defense official told The War Zone, about these attacks, the latest in a series of such incidents in the Red Sea that have taken place in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

The Houthis are escalating attacks in the Red Sea. (Google Earth image)

The Houthis on Sunday took credit for attacking two of the commercial vessels but did not acknowledge attacking the Carney or the Sophie II. The Houthis claimed they were attacking Israeli vessels. The Unity Explorer is owned by a British firm that includes Dan David Ungar, who lives in Israel, as one of its officers, The Associated Press reported. The Number 9 is a Panamanian-flagged container ship linked to Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, according to AP.

“This morning, the naval forces carried out a targeting operation against two Israeli ships in Bab al-Mandab, namely the ‘Unity Explorer’ ship and the “NUMBER 9” ship,” Houthi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree said on Twitter. “The first Israeli ship was targeted by an anti-ship missile, while the second ship was targeted by a sea drone.”

The two ships “were targeted after rejecting warnings from the Yemeni naval forces, Saree said. “The Yemeni armed forces continue to prevent Israeli ships from navigating in the Red and Arab Seas until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops.”

"One ship was significantly damaged and it is in distress and apparently is in danger of sinking and another ship was lightly damaged," Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters in Tel Aviv, adding that neither ship had a connection to Israel.

This is the latest in a string of attacks in the Red Sea by the Houthis.

Nov. 27, two ballistic missiles fired from Yemen came down in the Red Sea in the vicinity of the destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87). At the time, the warship was concluding its response to a distress call from the M/V Central Park, a commercial vessel that had itself come under attack from a group of armed raiders that had attempted to board it.

On Nov. 19, the Houthis staged a helicopter-borne raid on the Galaxy Leader, a Bahamian-flagged vehicle carrier transiting the Red Sea. The Houthis still hold the ship and its 25 crew members. A U.S. military official told The War Zone it is believed to be the first Houthi helicopter-borne raid on a ship.

On Nov. 15, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner downed a drone launched from Yemen while in the Red Sea. 

That came after the Nov. 8 shoot down over the Red Sea of a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone by the Houthis.

In October, the Carney shot down four Houthi land attack cruise missiles and nearly 20 drones.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) defeats a combination of Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea, Oct. 19. Carney is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to help ensure maritime security and stability in the Middle East region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Lau)

The rebel group has also been firing cruise and ballistic missiles and launching drones at targets in Israel in response to that country's ongoing operations in the Gaza Strip

Unlike several airstrikes it has carried out against Iranian-backed militias that attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon has yet to take any action against the Houthis despite repeated calls for retaliation. However, CENTCOM said the U.S. is considering "all appropriate responses."

"These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security," CENTCOM said in its statement. "They have jeopardized 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."

In 2016, the U.S. did retaliate against Houthi rebels who had slung four anti-ship missiles at the USS Mason and USS Ponce on two separate occasions in just three days.

From our report at the time: "A week before firing on the US Navy vessels, the UAE-operated high-speed logistics ship HSV-2 Swift was destroyed in a similar attack."

"Three RGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) were fired from the USS Nitze at 4AM local time on Thursday morning at three separate Houthi-controlled radar sites along Yemen’s west coast. According to the US Navy, all three targets were obliterated in the operation."

We will have to wait and see if this latest series of anti-ship attacks in the Red Sea will result in similar retaliation.

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