Ballistic missile fired from rebel-held Yemen strikes cargo ship in Red Sea after earlier attack

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Liberian-flagged cargo ship caught fire in the Red Sea on Friday after being hit by a projectile launched from rebel-controlled Yemen, authorities said.

The attack on the Al Jasrah, though causing no injuries, further escalates a campaign by Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who have claimed responsibility for a series of missile assaults in recent days that just missed shipping in the Red Sea and its strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The attacks are a response to the Israel-Hamas war and the pounding air-and-ground offensive targeting the Gaza Strip, though the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults has grown more tenuous — or nonexistent — as the attacks continue.

The Houthis did not immediately claim responsibility for the assault on the Al Jasrah.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the attack took place. The private intelligence firm Ambrey also confirmed the attack.

“The projectile reportedly hit the port side of the vessel and one container fell overboard due to the impact,” Ambrey said. “The projectile caused a ‘fire on deck’ which was broadcast via” radio.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors Mideast shipping lanes, also acknowledged the attack, warning vessels to exercise caution. The UKMTO said there had been no reported casualties from the fire.

The Al Jasrah is operated by German-based shipper Hapag-Lloyd, which said no crew member had been hurt in the attack.

“Hapag-Lloyd will take additional measures to secure the safety of our crews,” the company said, without elaborating.

It wasn’t clear if the attack involved a drone or a missile.

Ambrey noted that Hapag-Lloyd “is known to have offices in the Israeli ports of Ashdod, Haifa and Tel Aviv.”

On Thursday, the Houthis fired a ballistic missile that missed a container ship traveling through the strait.

The day before that, two missiles fired from Houthi-held territory missed a commercial tanker loaded with Indian-manufactured jet fuel near the key Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Also near the strait, a missile fired by Houthis on Monday night slammed into a Norwegian-flagged tanker in the Red Sea.

Global shipping has increasingly been targeted as the Israel-Hamas war threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even during a brief pause in fighting during which Hamas exchanged hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. The collapse of the truce and the resumption of a punishing Israeli ground offensive and airstrikes on Gaza have raised the risk of more sea attacks.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is only 29 kilometers (18 miles) wide at its narrowest point, limiting traffic to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nearly 10% of all oil traded at sea passes through it. An estimated $1 trillion in goods pass through the strait annually.

In November, Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeida. Separately, a container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean.

A separate, tentative cease-fire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government has held for months despite that country’s long war. That’s raised concerns that any wider conflict in the sea — or a potential reprisal strike from Western forces — could reignite those tensions in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

Also Thursday, unknown attackers boarded the Malta-flagged bulk carrier Ruen, managed by Navigation Maritime Bulgare, in the Arabian Sea off the Yemeni island of Socotra, Ambrey and the UKMTO said. Bulgarian media said the ship’s 18-member crew hailed from Angola, Bulgaria and Myanmar. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault.

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