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Tanker in Red Sea Targeted by Speedboat Gunfire and Missiles

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

December 13, 2023

© FER737NG / Adobe Stock

© FER737NG / Adobe Stock

A tanker in the Red Sea off Yemen's coast was fired on by gunmen in a speedboat and targeted with missiles, maritime sources said on Wednesday, the latest incident to threaten the shipping lane after Yemeni Houthi forces warned ships not to travel to Israel.

A second commercial vessel was also approached by the speedboat in the same area though not attacked, British maritime security firm Ambrey and other sources said.

Separately, a U.S. defence official in Washington said the U.S. Navy destroyer Mason on Wednesday shot down a Houthi drone launched from Yemen that was headed in its direction as it responded to reports of an attack on a commercial vessel.

The U.S. official said Houthis had attacked the commercial vessel Ardmore Encounter in skiffs and then two missiles were fired from Yemen that missed the ship. The Ardmore Encounter reported no damage or injuries and continued on its way.

Ardmore Shipping Corp, owner and operator of the Ardmore Encounter, confirmed the vessel came under attack while transiting the Red Sea.

"No one boarded the vessel and all crew members are safe and accounted for. The vessel remains fully operational with no loss of cargo or damage onboard, and is considered to be out of immediate danger," the company said in a statement, adding the ship "received military assistance during the attack".

The Iran-aligned Houthi group has sought to support their Palestinian ally Hamas in the Gaza war by firing missiles at Israel and threatening shipping in the busy Bab al-Mandab Strait, next to Yemen at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest incidents in the busy shipping route off Yemen's coast.

"Houthis continue to attack international shipping focusing on ships which in their opinion have a link to Israeli interests or nationals. The safety implications to international shipping are considerable and very concerning," Jakob Larsen, head of safety and security at shipping association BIMCO, told Reuters.

"It is pure luck no seafarers have been killed yet."

Israel said the international community had to protect global shipping lanes.

Ambrey said the Marshall islands-flagged chemical tanker Ardmore Encounter reported an "exchange of fire" with a speedboat 55 nautical miles (102 km) off Hodeidah, saying the boat had fired as it approached. It said the tanker was targeted by three missiles.

"The private armed security team (PAST) aboard the vessel displayed arms and, as they did, the speedboat occupants opened fire at a distance of 300m-400m," Ambrey said.

"The PAST repelled the attack by returning fire. The speedboat further exchanged fire and disengaged."

A security source, who asked not to be named, said two missiles were fired; an anti-missile battery brought down one and the second fell into the sea.

Ambrey said the tanker had been hailed by an entity claiming to be the Yemeni Navy asking the ship to alter course but a nearby warship advised the vessel to maintain course.

Coalition Task Force (CTF) Sentinel, the operational arm of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) that includes navies from the U.S., Britain and others, operates in the area to provide reassurance to commercial shipping.

Ambrey also said a Malta-flagged bulk carrier was approached by the speedboat.

The Houthi group, based in Sanaa, in the north of a country devastated by years of war, has been targeting vessels it says are Israeli-owned or ships it says are heading to Israel. It has obstructed their passage through the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

A senior Houthi official on Tuesday warned cargo ships in the Red Sea to avoid travelling towards Israel, after saying they had hit a Norwegian tanker with a missile earlier in the day.

Separately, Britain's Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency reported that five or six small boats, with machine guns mounted on their bows, followed a ship in the Arabian Sea for about 90 minutes about 90 nautical miles off the Omani coastal town of Duqm. They later left, it said.

The UKMTO advised ships to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity.

(Reuters - Reporting by Ahmed Elimam, Nadine Awadallah, Jonathan Saul and Phil Stewart; writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich and David Gregorio)