The patrol boat who accompanied Al-Zubaidi on his visit to Bab al-Mandab (STC media)

Bab al-Mandab: Houthi attacks and local and international movements


Mon, 18-12-2023 08:16 PM, Aden

Red Sea (South24) 

Today, the Red Sea region witnessed a spate of new attacks by the Houthi militia, which coincided with the visit of prominent Southern military officials to Bab al-Mandab. Meanwhile, the US Secretary of Defense announced the approaching formation of an international coalition to protect international navigation.

In a post on X today, military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Sarea said that the Houthis’ naval forces had conducted military operations against “two ships linked to [Israel]. The first was the oil carrier ‘Swan Atlantic’, and the other was the ‘MSC Clara’ ship, carrying containers”.

In further posts, Sarea stated “The operation was launched owing to the ship's crew refusal to respond to calls directed by Yemeni naval forces” and “The Yemeni armed forces will not hesitate to target any ship that violates what was stated in its previous statements.”

The attack is the latest in the Houthi maritime campaign which since 19 November has targeted approximately 12 commercial ships. It is also believed that the militia attempted to target two American destroyers on 15 and 30 November, and a French destroyer on 11 December, using drones.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) released multiple warnings on its website regarding several incidents this afternoon.

At roughly 2 PM GMT, the UKMTO communicated that it had received a report of an attack on a vessel 24 nautical miles southeast of the Yemeni port of Mokha. Guards on board the vessel fired warning shots at armed personnel who had been approaching on a “craft”.

The armed personnel diverted their craft away from the ship, according to the UKMTO report. A statement less than one hour earlier reported that an explosion had occurred on a vessel 24 nautical miles northwest of the port of Mokha.

Just hours ago, at roughly 4 PM GMT, the UKMTO said that it had received a report of an attempted attack 63 nautical miles northwest of Djibouti. This was in addition to a reported explosion 30 miles south of the port of Mokha earlier this morning. 

This brings the number of incidents announced by the UKMTO today to four, though it was not immediately clear whether any of the reports related to the Swan Atlantic ship.

This morning, Reuters reported that the Swan Atlantic had been attacked today in the southern Red Sea, with several projectiles fired from Houthi-controlled territory, according to American officials.

The officials added that the US destroyer USS Carney responded to the distress call by moving toward the ship.

British newspaper the Daily Mail quoted the Norwegian company Inventor Chemical Tankers, which owns the Swan Atlantic ship, as saying that the ship's water tank was damaged in the attack, but all of the ship's systems were operating normally.

In further regional news, the President of the Southern Transitional Council and member of the Presidential Leadership Council, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, visited the strategic island of Mayun, located in the Strait of Bab al-Mandab in the south Red Sea.

Pictures showed Al-Zubaidi accompanied by the Minister of Defense for the internationally recognized government, Lieutenant General Mohsen Al-Daari, and the former Minister of Defense, Major General Mahmoud Al-Subaihi, who was released from a Houthi prison months ago.

During recent meetings with American officials, Al-Zubaidi had expressed several times the readiness of his forces to participate in securing the Gulf of Aden, Bab al-Mandab, and the Red Sea from Houthi attacks.

Today, following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel Defense Minster Yoav Gallant, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin revealed the United States' intention to build an international coalition to deal with the Houthis' maritime threats.

In a joint press statement with Gallant, Austin said: “We will build an international coalition to deal with the Houthi threats. Tomorrow I will meet with the ministers of the region’s defense countries to discuss protecting the Bab al-Mandab Strait.”

He highlighted Iran’s complicity in the attacks, saying “Iran’s support for Houthi attacks on commercial vessels must stop”, as reported by Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post. 

Gallant pointed to Iran’s responsibility for the Houthi attacks, saying “Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis are financed and trained by one source of evil – Iran,” according to news agency Yedioth Ahronoth, who reported on the press conference after the Israel War Cabinet’s meeting with Austin.

The newspaper quoted the Israeli Prime Minister as saying: “The Iranian terror axis is now threatening to close the Bab al-Mandab Strait, and this is a threat to the entire global navigation. This threat must be confronted.”

Yesterday, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdulsalam said: “Our forces will continue their military operations at sea until stopping the Israeli aggression on Gaza and bringing fuel and food supplies to the residents of Gaza.”

Today, four international shipping companies announced the cessation of their operations in the Red Sea due to the Houthi attacks.

The Belgian oil tanker company Euronav, British Petroleum, the Taiwanese container ship company Evergreen Line, and the Norwegian oil tanker group Front Line announced the suspension of the passage of their ships in the Red Sea until further notice.

This brings the number of shipping companies who have officially announced the halting of Red Sea operations due to Houthi maritime attacks to ten to date. 

On Saturday, war reporting website The War Zone said that the US Secretary of Defense would announce 'Operation Prosperity Guardian’ during his visit to the Middle East, to prevent Houthi maritime threats.

The website explained that Operation Prosperity Guardian is a joint international effort similar to the Joint Task Force CTF153 currently led by Washington.

South24 Center

South YemenYemenIranIsraelNavyRed SeaHouthisCTF153Washington