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Updated January 1st, 2024 at 17:54 IST

US Navy helicopters sink 3 boats of Yemen's Houthi in Red Sea, 10 dead

This was the second attack on Maersk Hangzhou in less than 24 hours and 23rd Houthi attack on shipping in the Red Sea since Oct. 19.

Zaini Majeed
US
Defense Secretary oye! Austin, left, talks with the commanding officer of the USS Gerald R. Fore, Navy Capt. Rick Burgess. | Image:AP
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The United States Navy on Sunday sunk three vessels belonging to the Yemen’s Houthi in the Red Sea. The boats were involved in waging an attack on a Singapore-flagged, Denmark-owned and -operated container ship bound for Israel. US Navy responded to an SOS call from the Singapore-flagged vessel Maersk Hangzhou at 6:30 a.m. local time. Helicopters flew from USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely to guard the vessel, which were also shot at by the Houthi boats prompting the US forces to return the fire.

Maersk Hangzhou signalled that it was “under attack by four Iranian-backed Houthi small boats” CENTCOM said on X, formerly Twitter. “The US Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews. The fourth boat fled the area. There was no damage to US personnel or equipment,” the statement read.

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This was the second attack on Maersk Hangzhou in less than 24 hours and 23rd Houthi attack on shipping in the Red Sea since Oct. 19. No injuries were reported to those onboard the vessel from the Houthi missiles that were fired “toward the ships,” according to US CENTCOM’s statement.

United States’ naval task force was formed earlier this month to protect the Red Sea transit route that constitutes approximately 12 percent of the total global trade. As Israeli military launched a ground incursion into the besieged strip of Gaza, Yemen’s Houthis forces warned that its fighters would start targeting any vessel passing through the Red Sea en route to Israel. This, said the Iranian backed Yemini faction, would be irrespective of whether the ship’s ownership is linked to the Jewish state or not.

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In recent days, there has been an abrupt escalation of the maritime conflict in Southern Red Sea between the crew of the USS Gravely destroyer, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier and the Houthi.

The USS Mason, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, passes a dock in Norfolk, Va., April 8, 2021. Officials said the USS Mason shot down a suspected Houthi drone flying in
its direction during an incident in which two missile fired from territory held by Yemen’s Houthi rebels missed a commercial tanker loaded with jet fuel near the key Bab el-Mandeb
Strait. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Pentagon's defensive coalition to ensure trade flow in key maritime route

As Houthi escalated attacks in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the key global trade route amid the Israel-Hamas war, Pentagon formed a defensive coalition with more than 20 nations as the participants to ensure continual flow of billions of dollars' worth of commerce via the maritime route.

Houthi fighters attacked Maersk Hangzhou vessel with arms, approaching it within 20 meters and attempting to board it, according to the US military. Helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely responded to the distress call from the vessel, and “issued verbal calls to the small boats.” But as the small boats fired at the helicopters, a contract-embarked security team retaliated with shots.

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Iranian-backed Houthi small boats attack merchant vessel and U.S. Navy helicopters in Southern Red Sea

On Dec. 31 at 6:30am (Sanaa time) the container ship MAERSK HANGZHOU issued a second distress call in less than 24 hours reporting being under attack by four Iranian-backed… pic.twitter.com/pj8NAzjbVF

— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) December 31, 2023

Fighters in as many as four boats coordinated attack on the container ship. US Navy initially managed to shoot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles but hours later Houthi rebel forces fired at the vessel. As the threat continued, the US forces from the helicopter opened retaliatory fire, killing several of the armed Yemini crews, according to a statement published by US Central Command (CENTCOM).

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In a statement, Yemen’s Houthi stated that its boats were performing tasks that were aimed at “establishing security and stability and protecting maritime navigation.” Houthis acknowledged that 10 of its fighters were killed during the confrontation with the American forces, warning of consequences. United States military, meanwhile, clarified to the Houthi that it “takes these threats seriously, and [we’re] going to make the right decisions going forward.″

“We’re going to do what we have to do to protect shipping,” White House National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby iterated in an interview as he spoke about the preemptive strike against the Yemini rebel forces.

“The United States has “significant national security interests in the region,” Kirby said, adding that “we’re going to put the kind of forces we need in the region to protect those interests and we’re going to act in self-defense going forward.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of the US House Intelligence Committee appealed to President Joe Biden “to look at what actions need to be taken in Yemen to be able to prevent the Houthis to continue to put commercial and military vessels at risk.” The Denmark based shipping company announced Sunday that it would suspend the transit of its vessels via the Red Sea in view of Houthi assaults. 

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“In light of the (most recent) incident — and to give time to investigate the details of the incident and assess the security situation further — it has been decided that all transits through the area will be postponed for the next 48 hours,” Maersk said, according to the Danish public broadcaster DR. However, since Pentagon started Operation Prosperity Guardian to counter Houthi 10 days ago, as many as 1,200 merchant ships have transited via Red Sea region.
 

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Published January 1st, 2024 at 07:46 IST

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