Three dead in first fatal Houthi attack in the Red Sea

TV broadcast speech of Yemen’s Houthi Spokesperson Yahya Sare’e, on March 4, 2024, in Sana’a, Yemen. 

Mohammed Hamoud | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Three people were killed in a Houthi attack against a civilian merchant ship, U.S. authorities said, marking the first lives claimed since the Iran-backed militant group began targeting the Red Sea shipping route at the end of last year.

The U.S. Central Command said late Wednesday night that Houthi forces struck the Barbados-flagged, Liberian-owned bulk carrier True Confidence in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday with an anti-ship ballistic missile, leading to several fatalities.

“The missile struck the vessel, and the multinational crew reports three fatalities, at least four injuries, of which three are in critical condition, and significant damage to the ship,” Centcom said. “The crew abandoned the ship and coalition warships responded and are assessing the situation.”

The Philippines Department of Migrant Workers identified two of the seafarers killed and two of the crew members injured in the incident as Filipino in a social media post early Thursday.

“With great sadness, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) confirms the deaths of two Filipino seafarers in the most recent attack by Houthi rebels on ships plying the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” it said, withholding their names and identities. “We are also informed that two other Filipino crewmen were severely injured in the attack on their ship.”

The vessel “suffered damage” in a Houthi altercation on Wednesday, 54 nautical miles southwest of Aden, after being hailed by an entity declaring itself as the “Yemeni Navy” for 30 minutes and ordered to alter course, according to the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations. The ship was not identified by name at the time.

The Houthis have claimed the attack.

“The naval forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces carried out a targeting operation against the American ship (TRUE CONFIDENCE) in the Gulf of Aden, with a number of appropriate naval missiles. The strike was accurate, led to a fire breaking out on it,” Houthi Spokesperson Yahya Sare’e said on the X social media platform, adding that the vessel had rejected Houthi warning messages.

“All crews of the targeted ships must quickly leave after the first attack,” he said.

CNBC has reached out to the ship’s operator, Third January Maritime.

This is the first fatal Houthi attack since the group started maritime offensives against vessels transiting through the key Red Sea route that accounts for 12% of global traffic. The Houthis claim solidarity with Palestinian civilians at risk in Israel’s military campaign against Iran-backed militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Yemeni forces say they only target ships connected to Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. — after the latter two started retaliatory missile strikes in response to the Red Sea disruptions — but have repeatedly attacked unaffiliated vessels.

On Saturday, the Belize-flagged general cargo ship Rubymar became the first casualty to sink in the Red Sea, after drifting abandoned at sea following a Houthi attack mid-February.

In a separate incident earlier this week, four key telecommunications cables in the Red Sea were severed. The cause of the severance was not immediately clear, but the incident impacted 25% of traffic, HGC Communications said.

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