3 commercial ships attacked in Red Sea; Houthis claim responsibility, citing Israel-Hamas war

Written by on December 3, 2023

Oguz Yeter/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Three commercial ships came under attack in the international waters of the Red Sea on Sunday, U.S. military officials said — as Houthi militants claimed responsibility for the latest incursion in the Middle East, where tensions have been high since the Israel-Hamas war began.

“These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement. “They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world.”

A major shipping lane runs through the sea, between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel sparked the war, there have been a number of missile attacks from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen on ships in the Red Sea, the Pentagon has said.

Officials on Sunday laid blame with Iran.

“We … 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,” CENTCOM said.

U.S. forces have been repeatedly attacked by Iran-backed proxies in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to the Pentagon, and American forces have carried out multiple retaliatory strikes as a result.

The three commercial ships, or merchant vessels, were identified in Sunday’s statement as the Unity Explorer, which is U.K.-owned but flagged (or registered) in the Bahamas; the Number 9, which is flagged in Panama and owned and operated in Bermuda and the U.K.; and the Sophie II, which is also registered in Panama.

The missile attacks were carried out over the course of more than seven hours on Sunday, according to CENTCOM: first on the Unity Explorer, though that missile detonated nearby; and a second time on the Unity Explorer, which took “minor damage” from that strike. The Number 9 was then struck by a missile and about an hour later, the Sophie II was also hit.

No casualties were reported, according to CENTCOM.

The USS Carney, a Navy destroyer that has been patrolling in the area, intercepted and shot down two drones from Houthi areas of Yemen while assisting the vessels on Sunday, CENTCOM said.

The warship took no damage. It’s not clear if the Carney — which has intercepted multiple such missiles in the previous weeks — was the intended target of the drones.

In a statement, the Houthis said they had targeted two of the commercial ships because they were linked to Israelis and had “rejected warning messages” from Houthi forces.

A U.S. official told ABC News that some of the commercial vessels involved are believed to have connections to Israel.

The Houthis will “continue to prevent Israeli ships from navigating the Red and Arab Seas until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops,” the statement continues, referring to the conflict with Hamas after its terror attack.

ABC News’ Nasser Atta contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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