Houthi missile strike kills two civilian mariners, U.S. officials say

A missile launched by Houthi militants in Yemen struck a commercial ship in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday, US officials said, killing two people and marking the first known fatalities in the Houthis’ months-long campaign of violence against maritime traffic.

The missile struck the MV True Confidence around 11:30 a.m. in Yemen, causing significant damage to the cargo ship, two U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. The US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the region, was expected to make a statement soon.

At least six other sailors were injured and the crew abandoned ship, one of the US officials said, adding that the attack marks the fifth anti-ship missile launched by the Houthis in the past two days.

The area where the attack took place has become a particularly dangerous transit zone as Houthi forces in Yemen have stepped up their attacks on ships in what they have described as a response to Israeli actions in Gaza.

On Wednesday, British maritime safety company Ambrey said rescue and salvage operations were underway and that parts of the ship’s crew were “already in lifeboats.” It said that after attempting to make contact with the damaged cargo ship, an Indian naval vessel was sighted “in the vicinity of the last known position of the stricken ship.”

Earlier, Ambrey said the Barbados-flagged cargo ship “drifted” about 57 nautical miles off Yemen’s southwestern coast after a nearby ship reported an explosion near the cargo ship.

Ambrey said the ship was heading northwest when it was “most likely greeted by an entity declaring itself” to be the Yemeni Navy and ordered to change course.

After the ship was observed turning around and heading in a different direction, it began to drift and stopped transmitting its location and identification signal, Ambrey said.

During the ongoing war in Gaza, Houthi forces have attacked merchant and military vessels in the Gulf of Aden, the Red and Arabian Seas and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait – a key area for international trade and maritime traffic.

This week, the cargo ship Rubymar sank in the Red Sea after an attack by Houthi militants, taking with it some 21,000 tons of fertilizer, posing a significant environmental risk to one of the world’s busiest waterways and home to many coral reefs.

The United States and Britain have responded with attacks on Yemen, and in December Washington announced a new coalition of countries that would work to counter Houthi attacks and guarantee “freedom of navigation for all countries.”

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