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Yemen’s Houthi rebels likely launch boat-borne attack against commercial ship in Red Sea

By JON GAMBRELL, , Associated Press
Published: June 12, 2024, 1:38pm

ABOARD THE USS LABOON IN THE RED SEA (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels have likely launched a boat-borne bomb attack against a commercial ship in the Red Sea on Wednesday, the British military said, the latest escalation despite a U.S.-led campaign trying to protect the vital waterway.

The use of a boat loaded with explosives raised the specter of 2000’s USS Cole attack, a suicide assault by al-Qaida on the warship when it was at port in Aden, killing 17 on board. Associated Press journalists saw the Cole in the Red Sea on Wednesday, now taking part in the U.S. campaign while visiting one of her sister ships, the USS Laboon.

The Houthis did not immediately claim the attack, but it typically takes them hours or even days to acknowledge their assaults. The rebels had planned a military statement later on Wednesday night.

In a warning to shippers, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center described the vessel as being hit in its stern by a small white craft southwest of the Houthi-controlled port city of Hodeida.

The captain “reports the vessel is taking on water, and not under command of the crew,” the UKMTO said. He also “reports the vessel was hit for a second time by an unknown airborne projectile.”

It also wasn’t immediately clear whether the attack involved people on board or a remotely piloted “drone” boat. However, the Houthis have used drone boats so far in their campaign and have not been known to launch suicide attacks.

The Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital nearly a decade ago and have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition since shortly after, have been targeting shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. They say the attacks are aimed at stopping the war and supporting the Palestinians, though the attacks often target vessels that have nothing to do with the conflict.

The war in Gaza has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians there, while hundreds of others have been killed in Israeli operations in the West Bank. It began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage.

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, killed three sailors, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration. A U.S.-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.

AP journalists on an embark with the U.S. Navy happened to be interviewing Cmdr. Eric Blomberg, the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer Laboon, when the alert came in on the attack. Blomberg took multiple calls from sailors on board the vessel giving updates on the apparent attack. The Laboon is one of the destroyers accompanying the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier and both has shot down Houthi fire and escorted vessels through the region.

Though he and others stressed at the time they were still investigating the attack, he stressed it appeared the vessel targeted had nothing to do with the war.

The Houthis “hit ships that are completely not associated or tied to the U.S. or Israel at all,” Blomberg said. “These are just innocent merchant sailors carrying goods through the Red Sea, trying to get it through the least-expensive route, and they’re paying for it..”