The US Navy has warned of an escalation in the Houthi forces ability to strike shipping in the Red Sea, with the launch of an unmanned surface vessel (USV) packed with explosives.
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper told reporters that the attack boat had been launched this morning. Cooper is currently in the area.
“Fortunately, there were no casualties and no ships were hit, but the introduction of a one-way attack USV is a concern,” Cooper was quoted as saying by the Military Times. He said it was unclear what the drone was targeting.
As of January 2, US Central Command reported the Houthis had carried out 24 attacks against merchant shipping in the southern Red Sea, since November 19. On January 2, Yemen fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles into the Red Sea, although no shipping reported damage.
The US describes the Houthis as Iranian backed, a position the UK shares. The Houthis have said they are carrying out attacks in the Red Sea in protest at Israel’s invasion of Gaza, triggered by the October 7 attack.
The USV mobilisation this morning is the first such reported incident using this technology. Previously the Houthis have used unmanned aerial vehicles, small boats and missiles.
The Houthis carried out an airborne assault in November on the Galaxy Leader, seizing the vessel and its crew.
The US and a group of countries – including Bahrain and the UK – issued a statement condemning the Houthi attacks on January 3.
The statement called for the “immediate end” to these “illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews”. It said the Houthis would “bear the responsibility of the consequences”.
It was not clear what actions the international group might take. Operation Prosperity Guardian attempts to provide safety to ships and has shot down Houthi attacks.
However, there have been discussions of attacking targets onshore in Yemen.
The US had previously designated the Houthis as a terrorist organisation, but revoked this in 2021. There have been calls to redesignate the Houthis, from US politicians as well as the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has not, though, signed on to the recent statement opposing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Neither has Saudi Arabia.
Maersk has seen a number of attacks on its vessels. The shipper has opted to pause all transits via the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, it said on January 2. The company is assessing “the constantly evolving situation”, it said.
In December, a drone attacked a tanker in the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles from Yemen and Iran. The US attributed the strike to Iran.