Attacks by the Houthis are continuing unabated despite the U.S. Central Command reporting multiple strikes to degrade their capabilities. The past few days appear to show an acceleration of the efforts with repeated denials both from CENTCOM and now shipping companies that vessels have been hit.
The reports are conflicting but it appears one containership may have been targeted twice in the range of 24 hours or less by the Houthi as they claimed to have “set the vessel ablaze.” CENTCOM, the UK Maritime Trade Organizations, and charterer CMA CGM Group however all denied the vessel in question, the Koi (102,500 dwt / 8,600 TEU) registered in Liberia, was hit.
The Houthi reported yesterday the vessel was struck, but in a statement to Bloomberg, CMA CGM denied it and said the vessel had diverted into Djibouti on a medical evacuation. Today, February 1, the vessel was resuming its trip when at midday two anti-ship ballistic missiles were launched by the Houthis CENTCOM reports. UKMTO puts the vessel approximately 57 nautical miles west of Al Hudayah, Yemen saying the “master reported an explosion in the distance.” CENTCOM says the missiles impacted in the water without hitting the ship and there was no damage.
While the ship which was built in 2011 is operating under charter to CMA CGM, the Houthi contended it was heading to Israel. Analysis of the ownership traces the ship to Oceonix Services, a UK-based manager and while ownership is officially in Bermuda, Oceonix is a unit of a fund controlled by the U.S. investment bank JP Morgan Chase. It is the same company that controlled the Marlin Luanda, the tanker on charter to Trafigura that was set on fire last Friday.
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The hours leading up to the apparent attempt to hit the Koi were busy with CENTCOM reporting multiple strikes in the U.S.-led effort to degrade the Houthis’ capabilities. At 10:30 a.m. local time today, CENTCOM says U.S. forces downed a drone that was over the Red Sea as a threat to shipping. Five hours before that, U.S. forces also took down a drone flying over the Gulf of Aden.
Overnight the U.S. reports it struck and destroyed what it believed was a Houthi ground control station for its drone activities. They also reported destroying 10 of the one-way drones along with the command center.
January 31 was equally as busy with the U.S. reporting that the USS Carney downed one anti-ship ballistic missile launched by the Houthi. CENTCOM also acknowledged taking down three Iranian drones which were in the vicinity of the USS Carney. Earlier in the day, U.S. forces also destroyed a surface-to-air missile that they said was prepared to launch from a Houthi-controlled area.
This incident followed the reports that late on Monday a Houthi anti-ship cruise missile had gotten within one mile of the USS Gravely. The destroyed reportedly engaged its close-in weapons to finally take down the threat.
CENTCOM reports it continues to identify and respond to threats as it works to protect the freedom of navigation in the area. The efforts, however, show no signs of abating the attacks with the U.S. now more opening admitting the attacks are being controlled by Iran. Distressed by the continuing attacks and with calls for assistance from the European shipping community, EU defense ministers meeting in Brussels yesterday said they were working on a plan to finalize the launch of an additional EU effort in the Red Sea. Their goal is to launch their mission by mid-February saying they would coordinate with the U.S. but focus on defending shipping.