Three killed in Houthi attack on cargo ship off Yemeni coast

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The campaign of attacks by Yemen’s Houthis on commercial ships claimed its first fatalities on Wednesday when a strike on a Barbados-flagged dry bulk carrier in the Gulf of Aden left three seafarers dead and four injured.

The death toll on the True Confidence, sold days ago by US private equity group Oaktree Capital, came in a statement from the US military’s central command (Centcom). The Houthi rebel group claimed responsibility for the attack hours earlier.

While the Houthis have attacked more than 40 ships since the start of their campaign in November, there had previously been no serious injuries to mariners. The most serious previous assault, on February 19, led to the sinking of the dry bulk carrier Rubymar. Its crew all abandoned ship safely.

Centcom wrote on the social media platform X that an anti-ship ballistic missile had been launched towards the vessel at 11.30am local time.

“The missile struck the vessel, and the multinational crew reports three fatalities, at least four injuries, of which three are in critical condition, and significant damage to the ship,” it said.

The Houthis’ official spokesman, Yahya Sare’e, claimed the attack, calling the True Confidence an “American ship”.

Sare’e renewed the claim by the group, which has Iranian backing, to be acting in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

The US condemned the attack on the True Confidence and urged other countries to do the same and join Washington in helping to bring the continuing attacks to an end.

“These reckless attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis have not only disrupted global trade and commerce, but also taken the lives of international seafarers simply doing their jobs,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “[We] condemn the Houthis for these attacks and we will call on governments around the world to do the same and join us in bringing to a halt these appalling attacks.”

According to a statement from the ship’s managers, the vessel had a crew of 15 Filipinos, four Vietnamese and one Indian. There were also three security guards — two Sri Lankans and one Nepalese.

The vessel is owned by True Confidence SA, registered in Liberia and managed by Third January Maritime, based in the Greek port of Piraeus. It was owned until a few days ago by Oaktree, which is still listed on many maritime databases as the vessel’s owner.

A picture posted by Centcom of the vessel showed the missile had inflicted severe damage to the accommodation block housing crew cabins.

The ship, which was carrying a cargo of steel products and trucks from the Chinese port of Lianyungang to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Aqaba in Jordan, was flying the flag of Barbados.

The Houthis have launched attacks on ships that they describe as Israeli, British or American. Many of the attacks have been made on the basis of tenuous links or outdated or incorrect information on maritime websites.

The statement on behalf of Third January said the vessel was “drifting, with a fire continuing onboard”.

The attack seems likely to have been a result of the ship’s previous ownership by Oaktree, one of the US private equity firms that is most active in shipping investment. One person familiar with the issue said the vessel had changed hands to the new owners as recently as February 27.

The managers’ statement said there was “no current connection with any US entity”.

Martin Kelly, senior Middle East analyst at EOS Risk Group, a maritime security practice, said the Houthis used “a number of open sources” to determine whether a vessel was connected to countries or entities they felt were legitimate targets.

“Entries on open-source platforms such as Marine Traffic are often used, which may not have been updated with recent ownership details, leading to attacks on unconnected vessels,” Kelly said. “This may have been the case with True Confidence.”

The Houthis started a campaign of attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in November, following the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Centcom said the missile that hit the True Confidence was the fifth the Houthis had fired in the last two days. One hit the container ship MSC Sky II on Monday, while the US warship USS Carney shot down another. It did not say what happened to the other two weapons.

“These reckless attacks by the Houthis have disrupted global trade and taken the lives of international seafarers,” Centcom said.

Arsenio Dominguez, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations’ maritime arm, called the “horrific reports” of the casualties “deeply saddening”.

“I extend my deepest condolences and those of the entire IMO family to the families of those who have lost their lives, and our thoughts are with those who have been injured,” he said in a statement. “Innocent seafarers should never become collateral victims.”

Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz in Washington



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