Drone attack damages merchant ship in Red Sea: UK agencies

Spokesperson for the Houthi-supported Yemeni army, Brigadier Yahya Saree on September 14, 2019. [AFP]

A drone attack damaged a merchant ship in the Red Sea near Yemen Sunday, two maritime security agencies said, as Iran-backed Huthi rebels announced naval attacks in the vital trade route.

Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Yemen's Huthi rebels. They say they are acting in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

The latest attack occurred about 65 nautical miles (120 kilometres) west of the Yemeni port city of Hodeida, said the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which is run by Britain's Royal Navy.

"The Master of a merchant vessel reports being hit by uncrewed aerial system (UAS), resulting in damage to the vessel," said a bulletin from the agency.

The "vessel is proceeding to its next port of call" and initially reporting no casualties, it added. "Authorities are investigating."

British maritime security firm Ambrey said the vessel was "a Liberia-flagged, Greece-owned bulk carrier".

The Joint Maritime Information Centre (JMIC), working with a Western-led naval task force in the region, said it was "the second time the vessel was targeted" after missiles were fired at it earlier on its voyage through the Gulf of Aden.

"While transiting in the Red Sea, the vessel reported being hit... Several members of the crew sustained non-life threatening injuries that do not require immediate medical attention," the centre said.

"JMIC has investigated and assesses this vessel was targeted due to other vessels within its company structure making port calls in Israel."

 Flooded vessel abandoned 

Later on Sunday, UKMTO said it received a distress call from a second vessel, this one off Yemen's southeastern coast, that had "suffered flooding that cannot be contained".

UKMTO did not specify what caused the incident.

"This has forced the master and crew to abandon the ship. They have been recovered by an assisting ship," UKMTO said in an incident report, adding that the flooded vessel "remains adrift".

The Huthis' military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a statement on Sunday that the rebel forces had targeted two ships, one in the Red Sea and the other in the Indian Ocean.

He said "a second targeting operation" against a vessel called Transworld Navigator used an UAS and "led to a direct hit".

A second vessel was targeted "with a number of cruise missiles".

On Saturday, United States Central Command, which has carried out retaliatory strikes against Huthi targets over their attacks on shipping, said it had destroyed three nautical drones belonging to the group over the previous 24 hours.

"It was determined these systems presented an imminent threat to US, coalition forces, and merchant vessels in the region," Central Command said.

It also said the rebels had launched three anti-ship missiles into the Gulf of Aden, but no injuries or significant damage were reported.