Houthis launch drone to attack ships in Red Sea, hours after warning from Canada and allies

Click to play video: 'Canada, U.S. warn Houthis to stop attacks on Red Sea shipping vessels'
Canada, U.S. warn Houthis to stop attacks on Red Sea shipping vessels
WATCH: Canada, U.S. warn Houthis to stop attacks on Red Sea shipping vessels – Jan 3, 2024

An armed unmanned surface vessel launched from Houthi-controlled Yemen got within a “couple of miles” of U.S. Navy and commercial vessels before detonating on Thursday, just hours after the White House and a host of partner nations issued a “final warning” to the Iran-backed militia group to cease the attacks or face potential military action.

Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the head of U.S. Navy operations in the Middle East, said it was the first time the Houthis had used an unmanned surface vessel, or USV, since their harassment of commercial ships in the Red Sea began after the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict. They have, however, used them in years past.

Fabian Hinz, a missile expert and research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the USV’s are a key part of the Houthi maritime arsenal and were used during previous battles against the Saudi coalition forces that intervened in Yemen’s war. They have regularly been used as suicide drone boats that explode upon impact.

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Most of the Houthis’ USVs are likely assembled in Yemen but often fitted with components made in Iran, such as computerized guidance systems, Hinz said.

The location of this latest attack was not immediately clear, but Cooper said it took place in international shipping lanes.

Click to play video: 'Red Sea shipping route attacks by Yemen’s Houthis threatening ‘free flow’ of commerce: White House'
Red Sea shipping route attacks by Yemen’s Houthis threatening ‘free flow’ of commerce: White House

Since late October, the Houthis have launched scores of one-way attack drones and missiles at commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea. U.S. Navy warships have also intercepted ballistic missiles the Pentagon says were headed toward Israel. Cooper said a total of 61 missiles and drones have been shot down by U.S. warships.

In response to the Houthi attacks, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in December announced Operation Prosperity Guardian, with the United States and other countries sending additional ships to the southern Red Sea to provide protection for commercial vessels passing through the critical Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

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Cooper said 1,500 commercial ships have been able to transit safely since the operation was launched on Dec. 18.

However, the Houthis have continued to launch missiles and attack drones, prompting the White House and 12 allies to issue what amounted to a final warning Wednesday to cease their attacks on vessels in the Red Sea or face potential targeted military action.

Cooper said Operation Prosperity Guardian was solely defensive in nature and separate from any military action the U.S. might take if the Houthi attacks continue.

The U.S., United Kingdom and France are providing most of the warships now, and Greece and Denmark will also be providing vessels, he said.

Shipping traffic down 20 per cent through Suez Canal due to Houthi attacks: data

Shipping traffic through the Suez Canal fell 20% between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2 compared to a year earlier, according to the PortWatch platform, after shipping companies began re-routing vessels in response to attacks by Yemen’s Houthis.

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From Dec. 15, when Maersk became the first shipper to announce diversions, until Jan. 2, the most recent date for which International Monetary Fund’s PortWatch has data, the number of tankers and cargo ships passing through the crucial shipping lane fell by 10 per cent.

But seven-day averages only began dipping on Dec. 24, as the numbers of shippers foregoing the crucial time- and fuel-saving route around Africa swelled.

Click to play video: 'Red Sea attacks are ‘not a Middle East problem,’ but a ‘global problem’: Israel'
Red Sea attacks are ‘not a Middle East problem,’ but a ‘global problem’: Israel

Other major companies to have announced diversion of ships following missile and drone attacks by the Iran-aligned Houthis included Hapag-Lloyd and MSC.

The Suez Canal is an important source of dollar revenues for cash-strapped Egypt, but canal authorities have not commented on any loss in revenue.

The Houthis have launched attacks on more than 20 ships since Nov. 19, saying they were targeting vessels that had Israeli links or were sailing to Israel, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

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Hoever, many of the targeted vessels have had no Israeli connection and were not bound for Israeli ports.

The United States and other countries last month formed a naval task force, Operation Prosperity Guardian, to protect civilian vessels. U.S. warships have shot down Houthi-fired weapons, and on Sunday sank Houthi speed boats.

–Associated Press writer Jack Jeffery contributed to this report.

with files from Reuters

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