“Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity,” the UKTMO added.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the gravity of the Houthi threat to global commerce, and renewed US warnings of a response.
“I’m not going to telegraph or preview anything that that might happen,” Blinken said in Bahrain, the latest stop in a Mideast tour seeking to calm the region. “All I can tell you again, we’ve made clear – we’ve been clear with more than 20 other countries – that if this continues, as it did yesterday, there will be consequences. And I’m going to leave it at that.”
British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps described the assault as “the largest attack by the Iranian-backed Houthis in the Red Sea to date,” saying the Diamond used Sea Viper missiles and guns to shoot down multiple drones.
“The UK alongside allies have previously made clear that these illegal attacks are completely unacceptable and if continued the Houthis will bear the consequences,” Shapps said in a statement. “We will take the action needed to protect innocent lives and the global economy.”
The Houthis, a Shiite group that has held Yemen’s capital of Sanaa since 2014, later claimed responsibility for the attack in a televised statement by rebel spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree. Saree claimed the attack “targeted an American ship that was providing support to the Zionist entity,” without offering any further information. He also described it as an “initial response” to American troops sinking Houthi vessels and killing 10 rebel fighters last week.
The Houthis will “continue to prevent Israeli ships or those heading to the ports of occupied Palestine from navigating in the Red Sea until the aggression stops and the siege on our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip ends,” Saree said.
The Houthis say their attacks aim to end the pounding Israeli air-and-ground offensive targeting the Gaza Strip amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. However, the links to the ships targeted in the rebel assaults have grown more tenuous as the attacks continue.
The Red Sea links the Mideast and Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal, and its narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait. The strait is only 29 kilometres wide at its narrowest point, limiting traffic to two channels for inbound and outbound shipments, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Nearly 10 per cent of all oil traded at sea passes through it and an estimated $US1 trillion ($1.49 trillion) in goods pass through the strait annually.
A US draft resolution before the UN Security Council, obtained late Tuesday by The Associated Press, says the Houthi attacks impede global commerce “and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security.” The resolution would demand the immediate release of the first ship the Houthis attacked, the Galaxy Leader, a Japanese-operated cargo ship with links to an Israeli company that the rebels seized in November along with its crew.
An initial draft of the resolution would have recognised “the right of member states, in accordance with international law, to take appropriate measures to defend their merchant and naval vessels.”
The final draft is weaker, eliminating any UN recognition of a country’s right to defend its ships.
A US-led coalition of nations has been patrolling the Red Sea to try and prevent the attacks. There’s been no broad retaliatory strike yet, despite warnings from the US. However, Tuesday’s attack appeared to be testing what response, if any, would come from Washington.
Meanwhile, a separate, tentative cease-fire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government has held for months, despite the long civil war in Yemen. This has raised concerns that any wider conflict in the sea — or a potential reprisal strike from Western forces — could reignite those tensions in Yemen. It also may draw in Iran, which has so far largely avoided directly entering the wider Israel-Hamas war, further into the conflict.
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