A commercial ship was hit and set on fire by an anti-ship cruise missile in the southern Red Sea, an attack U.S. officials say came from the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen.
The Strinda, a Norwegian motor tanker, was hit by “what is assessed to have been an anti-ship cruise missile launched from a Houthi controlled area of Yemen,” the Central Command of the U.S. Department of Defense said.
It represents the latest attack by the Houthi militia on targets in the Red Sea and the broader region during more than two months of war between Israel and Hamas, which is also backed by Iran. The Houthis — a rebel group long enmeshed in a civil war in Yemen — has launched a series of drone and missile assaults on Israeli and American targets since Hamas killed at least 1,200 people on Oct. 7 in southern Israel.
The Houthis have said they intend to prevent Israeli ships from sailing in the Red Sea until Israel stops its assault on Hamas in Gaza. At least 15,000 people, and possibly thousands more, have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, according to the health authorities there. It was not immediately clear whether the Strinda had any connection to Israel, and some of the Houthi’s prior targets have had no discernible connection to Israel.
Last week, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said that the United States was in discussions with allies to set up a naval task force to guard ships traveling through the Red Sea.
The vessel was hit at about midnight local time on Tuesday while it was passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Central Command said on X. The Bab el-Mandeb is a strait between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, which opens into the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Geir Belsnes, the chief executive of Mowinckels Rederi, the shipping company that owns the Strinda, confirmed that the vessel, carrying feedstock for biofuel and bound for Italy, caught fire after being hit by a missile.
“Fortunately, there were no injuries to any member of the crew, who managed to extinguish the fire,” he said. The ship, manned by a crew of Indian nationals, was now proceeding to a safe port, he said.
No United States vessels had been in the vicinity during the attack, the Central Command said, adding that a U.S. Navy ship, the U.S.S. Mason, responded to the Strinda’s mayday call and was at the scene of the attack rendering aid.