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New explosion off Yemen as US keeps up campaign against Houthi rebels

By AFP - Feb 15,2024 - Last updated at Feb 15,2024

DUBAI — An explosion was reported near a vessel off the coast of Yemen, two maritime security agencies said on Thursday, the latest in a series of incidents that have disrupted global shipping.

The blast east of Yemen's Aden came after the United States said on Thursday it had seized an Iranian weapons shipment in January destined for Yemen's Houthi rebels, who have harassed commercial vessels on the key shipping route through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea for months.

The seizure is part of a wider effort by the United States to counter Houthi attacks which have triggered reprisals by US and British forces, including a fresh wave of American strikes this week.

On Thursday, a ship reported "an explosion in close proximity to the vessel" east of Yemen's Aden, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said, adding the vessel was sailing to its next port of call.

Security firm Ambrey said a "bulk carrier was targeted by an explosive projectile whilst transiting" east of Aden.

"The projectile exploded... off the vessel but did not strike the vessel," Ambrey said, adding that the attack only caused "minor damage due to shrapnel impacting a diesel generator pipe which led to a diesel leak".

 

 The Houthis, who control much of war-torn Yemen, have been attacking shipping since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza amid the Hamas-Israel war.

The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 per cent of global maritime trade.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 per cent in the previous two months.

‘Malign activity’ 

The US has accused Iran of abetting Houthi attacks on commercial ships by providing drones, missiles and tactical intelligence — a charge Tehran has denied.

The US military said on Thursday it had “seized advanced conventional weapons and other lethal aid originating in Iran and bound to Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen from a vessel in the Arabian Sea” on January 28.

The shipment contained more than 200 packages loaded with missile components, explosives and other devices, US Central Command said on social media.

“This is yet another example of Iran’s malign activity in the region,” CENTCOM chief Michael Erik Kurilla was quoted as saying.

“Their continued supply of advanced conventional weapons to the Houthis... continues to undermine the safety of international shipping and the free flow of commerce,” he added.

Even before the Red Sea strikes, the United States had raided Yemen-bound weapons shipments it says originate from Iran.

On January 16, it announced the first seizure of Iran-supplied weapons to the Houthis since their attacks started.

CENTCOM said US naval forces boarded a boat heading for Yemen and seized Iranian-made missile components and other weaponry in an operation in which two commandos went missing.

The weapon seizures come on top of a series of US strikes on Houthi-held areas of Yemen that are intended to deter further attacks.

Retaliatory strikes 

On Thursday, the US military said it had struck more drones and missiles that had been ready to be launched against ships in the Red Sea.

The raids occurred on Wednesday between 1:00pm and 7:30pm (10:00 GMT and 16:30 GMT), CENTCOM said.

US “forces successfully conducted four self-defence strikes against seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, three mobile unmanned aerial vehicles, and one explosive unmanned surface vessel”, it said.

The Houthi-run Saba news agency reported several strikes on the Red Sea coastal province of Hodeida.

In an earlier statement on Wednesday, CENTCOM said an anti-ship ballistic missile was launched from Houthi-controlled areas into the Gulf of Aden, adding that there were no reports of casualties or damage from ships in the area.

In a speech on Thursday, the leader of the Yemeni rebels, Abdul Malik Al Houthi, accused the United States of launching around 40 strikes this week, most of them on Hodeida.

He said such retaliatory attacks would fail to deter his forces from striking vessels if a ceasefire in Gaza is not reached.

He also warned the European Union against being drawn into the confrontation after member states last month gave initial backing to a naval mission to protect ships from attacks.

“European countries should not listen to the Americans or the British, and should not involve themselves in matters that do not concern them or affect them,” the Houthi leader said.

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