US Warship Comes To Aid Of Merchant Vessel Battling Fire After Houthi Attack

(Photo by Rafael Martie/US Navey via Getty Images)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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A U.S. warship stood ready to render assistance as a merchant vessel battled a shipboard fire after the vessel was struck with a missile, likely fired from Houthi rocket launchers, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The Yemen-based Houthi rebel group in a statement claimed responsibility for launching a missile at the Norwegian-flagged commercial oil tanker, Motor Tanker Strinda, in relation to previous threats to target ships linked to Israel, according to Reuters’ interpretation. No U.S. vessels were “in the vicinity at the time of the attack” at around 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday, but the U.S.S. Mason guided-missile destroyer responded to the Strinda’s distress call, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

“The USS MASON responded to the M/T STRINDA’s mayday call and is currently rendering assistance,” CENTCOM said.

The Mason remained nearby but was not in the end required to help, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder later said at a briefing.

The hit from what the U.S. military assesses was an anti-ship cruise missile damaged parts of the ship and sparked a fire on board, but as of the latest update no casualties were reported, according to CENTCOM. (RELATED: Biden Team Decides Against Striking Back At Houthi Rebels Despite Recent Attacks)

The FREMM Languedoc, which was on patrol off the coast of Yemen, shot down a drone that caused the fire on board the Strinda and escorted the tanker outside of the danger zone “following the complex air attack,” the French military said in a statement.

Strinda was transiting through the Bab el-Mandeb strait between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti, and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa into the Red Sea, according to the statement.

Yemen’s Houthis began harassing, targeting and seeking to commandeer Israel-affiliated commercial vessels in or near the Red Sea as an act of resistance against Israel, which is at war with Hamas in Gaza. The Houthis on Saturday pledged to attack all ships heading toward Israel regardless of their ownership, according to Reuters.

The Norwegian tanker was selected as a target because its destination was an Israeli port and it refused to heed the Houthis’ warnings, spokesperson Yahia Sarea said in an address, according to Aron Lund, a Middle East analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency. Other vessels complied with the Houthis threats and turned around, Sarea said, reiterating the Houthis’ ultimatum against any ship heading toward Israel.

Norway’s Mowinckel Chemical Tankers, which owns the tanker, said the vessel did not plan to make port in Israel and was instead transporting a cargo of palm oil intended for biofuels to Italy, Reuters reported.

Later, an entity claiming to be Yemen’s Navy ordered what monitoring service described as a “northbound cargo-laden tanker” to alter course and stop in a Yemeni port, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said.

Houthi attacks on commercial ships in recent weeks have stressed the U.S. Navy warships in the region, recently sending the USS Carney dashing to rescue several merchant vessels while defending against three apparent drone onslaughts.

“These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security. They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world. We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran,” CENTCOM said in a Dec. 3 statement.

The Languedoc also shot down two Houthi drones on Dec. 9, the French Navy said.

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