Ship Attacked by Houthis in Red Sea Is Still Afloat, Its Operator Says

A cargo ship struck by a Houthi missile in the Red Sea this week is partly submerged but still afloat, its operator said on Friday, having survived what appeared to be the Houthis’ most damaging attack yet.

The vessel, called the Rubymar, will soon be towed to Djibouti or Aden, a port city in Yemen, where its remaining cargo will be transferred onto another ship and sent to Bulgaria, said Roy Khoury, the head of the ship’s operator, Blue Fleet Group. Its engine room and one of its holding compartments is underwater, he added.

Most of the Houthi missile and drone attacks on ships in the Red Sea since the conflict in Israel started have not inflicted serious damage, but the attack on the Rubymar appeared to be one of the Houthis’ more serious to date. At least one missile struck the ship on Monday night, fired from a part of Yemen controlled by Houthi militants, the U.S. military said.

The Houthis, an Iran-backed group that has been targeting ships in what they call a campaign to pressure Israel to stop the war in Gaza, later claimed that they had sunk the ship. But satellite imagery and the ship’s operator confirmed that the Houthis had not.

After the Rubymar was hit on Monday night, its crew issued a distress call and then abandoned ship, the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement. A coalition warship responded to the distress call, and the crew was taken to port by a merchant vessel in the area, the statement said.

The crew members were taken to Djibouti by a vessel operated by a French shipping company and have since flown home, according to Mr. Khoury. Djibouti port officials said 24 crew members were on board: 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos.

The port officials also said that the Rubymar was carrying nearly 22 metric tons — more than 48,000 pounds — of fertilizer that is classified as “high consequence dangerous goods” for its combustibility risk by the International Maritime Organization, the U.N. body that regulates global shipping. The Blue Fleet Group did not comment about the ship’s cargo.

The Rubymar, a bulk carrier sailing with a Belize flag, is owned by Golden Adventure Shipping, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, Mr. Khoury said. The Blue Fleet Group is based out of Athens.

Since the Houthis began attacking ships in the Red Sea, a coalition of countries, including the United States and Britain, have brought naval forces to bear to defend vessels and retaliate. But the attacks have persisted against ships flying a range of flags.

The U.S.-led coalition has repeatedly struck missiles and launchers in Yemen and intercepted drones and missiles, but so far it has failed to halt the Houthi attacks.

On Thursday, the U.S. Central Command said that it conducted “self-defense strikes” against four Iranian-backed Houthi drones and two missiles that were prepared to launch from Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen. On Friday, the military said it shot down three more Houthi drones near “several commercial ships operating in the Red Sea,” adding that there was no damage to the ships.

Riley Mellen contributed reporting.