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Bulker With Explosive Cargo Has Been Hit by Houthi Missile and Abandoned

Location of the reported attack in the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb (UKMTO)
Location of the reported attack in the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb (UKMTO)

Published Feb 19, 2024 4:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

[Updated] Yemen's Houthi rebels attacked and damaged a merchant ship in the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb late Sunday, prompting the crew to abandon ship. The UK Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO) reported the incident, and a spokesman for the Houthi group claimed responsibility for the attack later Monday. 

UKMTO initially received a report of an incident 35 nm south of Al Mukha, Yemen, at about 2000 hours UTC on Sunday. The vessel's master reported "an explosion in close proximity to the vessel resulting in damage." The crew were unharmed.

In a follow-on update released in the early hours of Monday morning (local time), UKMTO advised that the crew had abandoned ship, and that unnamed military responders were on scene assisting. 

The target vessel has been identified as the bulker Rubymar, a British-owned, Lebanese-operated bulker flagged in Belize. Houthi rebels fired two missiles at the ship over the course of an hour, and one missile found its target. The operator told Bloomberg that the bulker had been hit in the engine room, and that it is now resting at anchor. The crew was rescued by a good samaritan vessel and taken to the nearby port of Djibouti. 

In a statement, the Djibouti Port Authority said that Rubymar was carrying an explosive cargo of 22,000 tonnes of fertilizer. The exact composition was not described, but the agency said that it was an IMDG 5.1 cargo. Ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers have caused serious accidents before, especially when carried or stored in large quantities, and are classed as IMDG 5.1. 

The authority said that it had transported the Rubymar's crewmembers to shore with its own harbor tug and was making arrangements for their safe repatriation. The 24-member crew included 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, four Philippine nationals and three Indians.

Since the beginning of Israel's operation against terrorist group Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis have launched dozens of missile and drone attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea. They have also captured and held an Israeli-linked car carrier, the Galaxy Leader, and are still holding the vessel's crew. 

So far, no seafarers have been reported injured by Houthi strikes, thanks in part to an American-led maritime security campaign in the Red Sea. U.S. Navy destroyers and carrier-based fighters have shot down countless inbound Houthi munitions, preventing them from reaching their intended targets, and have destroyed dozens more on the ground. There have also been no further hijackings since the increased U.S. Navy presence began.