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Houthi attack on commercial ship off Yemen kills three sailors

US and coalition naval vessels responded to the scene after the Barbados-flagged True Confidence reported crew members killed in a Houthi missile strike.
The container ship, A Daisen, with the destination 'DJJIB ARMED GUARD' seen at sea on Jan. 17, 2024 in Djibouti, Djibouti.

WASHINGTON — A missile strike by Houthi rebels killed three sailors onboard a commercial cargo vessel in the Gulf of Aden, marking a deadly turn in the Yemeni faction’s attacks on international shipping.

Three personnel were killed onboard the Barbados-flagged, Liberian-owned bulk carrier True Confidence after it was hit with an anti-ship missile, the US military announced Wednesday. At least five personnel were reported injured, and the crew was forced to abandon the ship.

Houthi spokesperson Yehia Saree claimed credit following the attack, which marked the first time the Yemeni rebels have killed merchant personnel onboard commercial shipping since they began launching such attacks in November.

A US Navy vessel and an Indian warship responded to the scene, Politico first reported. The missile struck the vessel some 54 nautical miles southwest of Aden, the UK Royal Navy's Maritime Trade Operations monitoring office reported.

The United Kingdom’s embassy in Sanaa released a statement on Wednesday confirming that at least two sailors onboard had been killed. “This was the sad but inevitable consequence of the Houthis recklessly firing missiles at international shipping. They must stop,” the embassy stated.

A US aircraft carrier, four accompanying destroyers, a cruiser and a host of other warships from other nations have been patrolling off Yemen in recent months in a bid to ward off the Houthis’ attacks.

The United States and United Kingdom have led four waves of combined airstrikes inside Yemen to destroy Houthi weaponry stockpiles in a bid to wear down their ability to launch such attacks.

The Yemeni faction has said its attacks on commercial shipping will stop only once Israel halts its war in Gaza and allows aid to flow into the besieged Palestinian enclave.

US officials have emphasized that many of the vessels the Houthis have attacked bear no apparent linkage to Israel and have sought the support of allies to bolster the US Navy’s presence in the region.

The Houthis have increasingly turned to targeting US- and UK-linked commercial ships in recent months following the US-led strikes on Houthi military sites in Yemen beginning in January.

In his statement on Wednesday, spokesperson Saree said Houthi forces targeted the True Confidence — which he described as an “American ship” — with multiple “naval missiles” after the ship’s crew “rejected warning messages” from his side.

A spokesperson for the ship’s management company was quoted by the BBC as saying vessel is owned by True Confidence Shipping SA, a firm registered to an address in Liberia and operated by Greece-based Third January Maritime, Ltd.

Last month, the new top commander of all US Navy forces in the Middle East acknowledged to Al-Monitor that maritime patrols and preemptive strikes against Houthi weaponry had yet to deter the Houthis from staging new attacks, despite thwarting dozens of their attempts.

Yesterday, US forces shot down an anti-ship ballistic missile and three one-way attack drones fired towards the destroyer USS Carney in the Red Sea. US forces later destroyed three anti-ship missiles and three unmanned attack boats in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that US-led defensive strikes against Houthi weaponry would continue.

“We believe that we have been able to degrade their capabilities,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. 

“That’s been very clear, in our assessment," she said. “But this is not just our problem, it’s an international one."