Possible threat to Indian Ocean shipping

The situation in the Red Sea may be deteriorating. A series of media reports are stating that the Houthis have launched missile attacks against several different ships in the Red Sea, off the coast of Yemen, and in the Indian Ocean.

A Houthi spokesman is reported as stating that “a response to the American British aggression against our country” had resulted in five military “military operations” by “naval and air forces” over the past three days.

There are reports that three ships are involved in the attacks. Two are operated by MSC, these being the MSC Gina, a 4,000 TEU vessel, and the MSC Grace F, a geared general cargo ship. These ships seem to have been sailing in the Arabian Sea, presumably near the Yemeni coast and somewhere in the Indian Ocean. The third vessel the Houthis say they attacked was the Hope Island, a 3,500 TEU vessel owned by Borealis Maritime. This last vessel seems to have been sailing in the Red Sea.

The projectiles used seem to have been a mix of ballistic missiles and drones.

There are no confirmed reports that the vessels were damaged. The Houthi statement appears to describe the MSC vessels as “Israeli”, whereas the Hope Island is referred to as British. Although the MSC vessels do not fly Israeli flags and MSC is domiciled in Switzerland, members of the Aponte family that runs MSC are Israeli. This may be a reason that the Houthis are attempting to target MSC vessels.

It is difficult to substantiate the claims of the Houthis. There appear to be no reports of damage to any of the ships identified by the Houthis. The American ‘Central Command’ organisation stated on April 6 that the US Navy “successfully destroyed one mobile surface-to-air missile system in Houthi-controlled territory of Yemen. CENTCOM forces also shot down one unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the Red Sea”. The United Kingdom Maritime Organisation reports that it “received a report of an incident 59NM southwest of Aden, Yemen. The Master of the vessel reports a missile impacted the water close to the vessel’s port quarter. No damage to the vessel was reported and the crew reported safe”. There was no mention of the attacks in the Indian Ocean.

If the Houthis have been launching attacks in the Indian Ocean it would mark a degree of escalation. They attempted to attack targets west of the Indian coast several months ago, however these were unsuccessful. In March, the group issued a statement asserting their wish to attack vessels in the Indian Ocean who are seeking to avoid the Red Sea yet it remains uncertain if the Houthis have the technology to acquire targets that far out to sea. However, if they are successful in directing missiles towards such traffic it may have implications for shipping, possibly forcing it to head further east and making access to the Gulf harder.

Author: Thomas Cullen

Source: Ti Insight

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