Saturday, February 24, 2024

Houthis target another tanker ship, warn vessels travelling in Red Sea to avoid Israel or face attack

In a move to prevent ships carrying goods to Israel, Yemen’s Houthi rebels warn ships travelling in the Red Sea to expect their attack.

Mohamed Ali Al-Houthi, head of the Iran aligned militia said that the cargo ships in the Red Sea should either avoid travelling toward Israel and the occupied territories or be ready to face their missiles.

“Any vessels passing Yemen should keep their radios turned on, and quickly respond to Houthi attempts at communication,” he added.

He also cautioned the ships “falsifying their identity” or raising flags different from the country belonging to the owner.

Earlier on Monday night, they attacked a Norwegian commercial tanker allegedly headed to Israel. 

The ship, Strinda, was struck on Monday night as it was crossing the Bab All-Mandab Strait situated between East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree, on Tuesday said the group targeted the ship because it was “loaded with oil” bound for Israel.

According to his televised statement, the crew refused to respond to all warnings. 

It was also stated that Houthis would continue blocking ships heading to Israeli ports until Israel allows the entry of food and medical aid into the Gaza Strip.

The attacked vessel is part of the fleet of Bergen-based shipping firm Mowinckels Rederi, according to its website. 

The company’s chief executive Geir Belsnes confirmed the ship had been “hit by a missile” causing a fire on the tanker, which was sailing under the Norwegian flag.

There were no reported injuries to any member of the crew, who managed to extinguish the fire.

The US military claimed that its Navy destroyer Mason assisted the Strinda crew responding to their  distress calls.

“Our focus has been, and remains, the safety and well-being of the seafarers onboard,” Belsnes told Al Jazeera in an email.

“Upon the recommendation of our security advisers, it was decided to withhold this information until the vessel and her crew were in safe waters,” he said in the statement.

He added that the ship was now “proceeding to a safe port”.

About 23,000 ships pass through the narrow Bab Al-Mandab Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden

Houthis have been strategically using their upper hand over Yemen’s western seaboard, including ports such as Hodeidah, to launch attacks on ships linked to Israel in solidarity with Palestinians under siege.

They have made it clear that they would target all ships heading to Israel, regardless of their nationality, and warned international shipping companies against dealing with Israel who is committing a genocide of Palestinians.

In the past weeks, Houthis have carried out a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and launched drones and missiles targeting Israel. 

Earlier, the US and France have said that Houthi drones headed towards their ships have been shot down in self-defence, refusing to admit any loss or damage.

In November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea. The vessel is still held by rebels near the port city of Hodeidah. 

Additionally, a container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean.

These attacks have heavily threatened commercial shipping in the area amid Israel’s war on Gaza. 

Industry sources reveal that the cost of shipping goods through the Red Sea is rising as the Houthis heighten their attacks. 

It is feared that further escalation could disrupt global supplies sailing through the region

“These attacks have the potential to become far more of a global strategic economic threat than simply a regional geopolitical one,” said Duncan Potts, the director of Universal Defence and Security Solutions consultancy.

Meanwhile, the London insurance market has counted the southern Red Sea as a high risk area and ships are asked to notify their insurers before sailing through the area and also pay an additional premium typically for a seven-day cover period.

Acknowledging the threat, many shipping companies have already opted to re-route their ships via the Cape of Good Hope away from the Red Sea, spending extra time and money.

Authorities in the US and Israel have so far denied any chance of direct retaliation to the attacks.

On the other hand, the US has  warned Houthi rebels that the peace plan for Yemen, under  negotiation with Saudi Arabia and the UN peace envoy, will fail if attacks on vessels continue.

The Houthi spokesman responded that the group would continue the blockade until Israel allowed the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Israel totally restricts the entry of food, water, fuel, medicines and shelter into the Gaza Strip, which its forces have been  bombarding for the last two months. 

At least 18,412 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks since October 7. 

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