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Crew abandon UK-registered cargo ship after Houthi attack off Yemen

20 Feb 2024 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

File photo showing the Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo ship Rubymar at anchor in the Black Sea off Turkey (2 November 2022)Feb 20 (BBC) - The crew of a Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo vessel have abandoned ship off Yemen after it was hit by missiles fired by the Houthi movement.

The Rubymar was in the Gulf of Aden near the Bab al-Mandab Strait when it was hit and the crew abandoned ship. The Houthis later claimed it had sunk.

It is one of the most damaging attacks so far by the Iran-backed Houthis.

They have launched dozens of missiles and drones at merchant vessels and Western warships since mid-November.

The Houthis say their attacks are a show of support for the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

A Houthi spokesman said the vessel suffered "catastrophic damage" and had sunk. There was no independent confirmation of this.

However, the UK government said the Rubymar was taking on water, had been abandoned and the crew taken to safety.

It condemned the attacks as "completely unacceptable" and said the UK and its allies reserved the right to respond appropriately.

The Houthi movement's spokesman also claimed its forces had attacked two US-owned cargo vessels, the Sea Champion and the Navis Fortuna, in the Gulf of Aden.

He added that Houthi air defences in the Red Sea province of Hudaydah had shot down a US MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) "while it was carrying out hostile missions against our country on behalf of [Israel]".

There was no immediate comment from the US military.

The Houthis' attacks have prompted many shipping companies to stop using the critical waterway, which accounts for about 12% of global seaborne trade.

US and British forces began carrying out air strikes on military targets across Houthi-controlled western Yemen in response last month.

On Sunday night, the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said it had received a report of an incident from an unnamed ship about 35 nautical miles (65km) south of the Yemeni Red Sea port of Mocha.

The master had reported "an explosion in close proximity to the vessel resulting in damage" at about 23:00 local time (20:00 GMT), it added.

Early on Monday, the agency cited military authorities as reporting that the crew abandoned the vessel, which was carrying "very dangerous" fertiliser, following an attack.

"Vessel at anchor and all crew are safe," it said. "Military authorities remain on scene to provide assistance."

British maritime security firm Ambrey separately reported that a Belize-flagged cargo ship had come under attack in the Bab al-Mandab Strait on Sunday as it sailed northwards.