Navy helicopters sank three “Iranian-backed Houthi small boats” in the southern Red Sea, killing the crews, the U.S. military said on Sunday.
According to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the Maersk Hangzhou container ship issued a second distress call in less than 24 hours early Sunday morning. The small boats originating from Houthi-controlled Yemen fired at the ship and attempted to board it.
A security team onboard the ship returned fire. Helicopters from the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and USS Gravely guided missile destroyer responded to the distress call and came under fire from the Houthi boats, returning the fire and sinking three of the four boats. The other boat fled the area.
No injuries were reported aboard the Maersk Hangzhou and the vessel was deemed seaworthy.
The ship’s crew is all accounted for, and there are no casualties.
On Saturday night, Maersk Hangzhou was struck by a missile while traversing the Red Sea, CENTCOM said. The Danish-owned ship, which is sailing under a Singaporean flag, requested assistance. As the Gravely and the USS Laboon, also an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, responded, two anti-ship ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen towards the ships. The Gravely intercepted the missiles.
CENTCOM said that Saturday night’s attack was “the 23rd illegal attack by the Houthis on international shipping since Nov. 19.”
From bases along the Yemeni coast, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have threatened ships in the Red Sea as they traverse the Bab el-Mandeb Straits, a maritime chokepoint between the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. The majority of Europe’s oil passes through the strait from the Indian Ocean towards the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Houthis vowed in early December to target any Israel-bound ship in the Red Sea, regardless of its ownership. They have attacked or harassed several ships and hijacked the Galaxy Leader in November. The cargo ship and its crew of 25 are being held hostage in Hodeidah, Yemen.
Major shipping companies have responded to the threat by rerouting vessels away from the Suez Canal-Red Sea route to go around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, a much longer journey.
In response, the U.S. is leading “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” a multinational coalition of naval forces protecting shipping in the Red Sea.
Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, recently resumed operations in the Red Sea despite Houthi threats.