Yemen's Houthi rebels fired missiles at two U.S. ships off the coast of Yemen on Wednesday, forcing them to turn back as attacks and retaliation by the United States intensified.
• Also read: Attacks in the Red Sea threaten the rescue of a derelict tanker
• Also read: Britain will “continue to restrict” the Houthis’ ability to carry out attacks.
This new attack came after pre-dawn attacks by American forces on Houthi positions in Yemen, where the rebels have controlled vast areas in their war for power since 2014.
According to a White House spokesman in Washington, the Houthis fired “three missiles at two ships” belonging to the American subsidiary of the Danish shipping giant Maersk, two of which were intercepted by a US military ship and one of which missed its target.
Spokesman John Kirvby warned that the United States would continue to “do everything necessary to protect shipping in the Red Sea, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the offshore Gulf of Aden from Yemen, a poor country on the Arabian Peninsula.” .
Maersk confirmed that two boats from its American subsidiary transiting the strait on their way to the Red Sea had turned over after explosions nearby.
The Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake were being escorted by the U.S. Navy when they heard the explosions, the company said in a statement, adding that cargo and crew were not affected.
“The US Navy has turned the two ships around and is escorting them into the Gulf of Aden,” the Danish giant added.
“Protect” maritime traffic.
Britain's Maritime Safety Authority (UKMTO) also reported an “explosion approximately 100 meters” from a ship 50 miles south of the Yemeni port of Mokha (South).
Since November, Yemeni rebels have said they are attacking ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden that they say are linked to Israel, in “solidarity” with Palestinians in Gaza, affected by the war between the Israeli army and Islamists are the Hamas movement.
About 12% of global maritime trade normally passes through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which controls access to the southern Red Sea, but since the Houthi attacks began the number of containers has fallen by 70%, according to shipping experts.
Many shipowners preferred to suspend their traffic in this area and instead choose an alternative route around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, which is longer and more expensive.
Amid the increase in attacks, the Americans, sometimes alongside their British ally, have launched strikes against Houthi positions in Yemen since early January to “protect” maritime traffic from Houthi attacks near Iran.
According to the U.S. Military Middle East Command (Centcom), U.S. forces “attacked two Houthi anti-ship missiles aimed and ready to launch” before dawn on Wednesday.
Gas deliveries at risk
The rebels have threatened retaliation for any U.S. attack, raising fears of a dangerous escalation.
The Houthis are part of what Iran portrays as an “axis of resistance” against Israel, uniting groups in the region such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, Hamas and other factions in Iraq and Syria.
In Doha, national company QatarEnergy reiterated that its liquefied natural gas (LNG) deliveries could be delayed due to the increase in Houthi attacks.
“Ongoing developments in the Red Sea region may impact the scheduling of certain deliveries made via alternative routes,” she said in a statement.
In mid-January, Qatar's Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdelrahmane Al-Thani, whose country is one of the world's largest LNG producers, called the attacks in the Red Sea “the most dangerous escalation” in the region because of the impact on global trade.