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Houthi Strikes Force Crew to Abandon Ship for First Time

Houthi Strikes Force Crew to Abandon Ship for First Time
Screen grab captured from a video shows Yemen's Houthi fighters' takeover of the Galaxy Leader Cargo in the Red Sea coast off Hudaydah, on 20 November 2023 in the Red Sea, Yemen. On Monday, the Houthi movement in Yemen released footage and photos of the Houthi-run coastguard taking over the Israeli-linked Galaxy Leader Vessel in the Red Sea, which had 52 people onboard. Galaxy Leader is owned by Galaxy Maritime Ltd in the Isle of Man and is linked to Israeli businessman Abraham Ungar through Ray Car Carriers. (Photo: Houthi Movement via Getty Images)

The crew of a commercial ship in the Red Sea abandoned the vessel following a Houthi attack — the first such evacuation since the militant group began menacing trade in the vital waterway late last year. 

Two-anti ship ballistic missiles damaged the Belize-flagged Rubymar on Sunday evening local time, US Central Command said Monday on social media platform X. A coalition warship and another merchant ship responded to the distress call, and the Rubymar’s crew were transported to a nearby port, it added.

Since November, the Houthis have escalated their attacks off the coast of Yemen with missiles and drone strikes on the merchant fleet. The Iran-backed group says they are targeting ships with links to Israel, the US and UK — their response to the war in Gaza and western airstrikes that have sought to quell the attacks.

The Rubymar is a relatively small cargo ship. Its registered owner is in Southampton, England, according to the Equasis international maritime database.

A Houthi spokesman said in a statement that an attack on an unidentified British ship resulted in its “complete sinking” — a claim that could not be verified independently.

Centcom didn’t mention in its statement whether the Rubymar had sunk, and the vessel’s owner didn’t respond to an earlier request for comment. UK Maritime Trade Operations had no further updates on the incident.

Earlier, a company official at GMZ Ship Management Co. in Lebanon said the attacks on the vessel occurred in the engine room and the front of the ship. There were no reports of injuries to the crew, who were being taken to Djibouti, the official said.

About 12% of global trade — and as much as 30% of container traffic — passes through the Suez Canal, at the other end of the Red Sea, each year. In order to avoid the attacks, a significant percentage of the world’s oil and gas carriers, bulk commodity ships and container vessels are now sailing thousands of miles around Africa, adding to voyage times and boosting costs to world shipping.

Also on Monday, another ship reported two nearby explosions, with evidence of shrapnel and damage to paintwork, though it continued to its next port of call. Maritime intelligence company Ambrey described the ship as a Greece-flagged bulk commodity carrier.

The Houthis said in their statement that they had also targeted two other vessels, though specific details couldn’t immediately be verified.

The European Union formally launched a defensive naval operation Monday aimed at protecting commercial vessels from Houthi attacks. The mission, commanded by Greece, will accompany some ships and protect them against attacks from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to the Persian Gulf.

Over the weekend, the US said it conducted five self-defense strikes against the Houthis, including one against an underwater vessel. Central Command said it was the first observed deployment of subsea attack capability since the attacks began.

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