Houthi Forces Confirm Attacks on American Drone and Dark Fleet Tanker

Drone about to be hit by missile
Image courtesy Houthi Military Media

Published Apr 28, 2024 4:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, Houthi forces confirmed a missile strike on a merchant tanker and an American drone aircraft over the Red Sea, demonstrating the continued menace the terrorist group still poses after months of allied counterstrikes.

Overnight Friday, the Royal Navy monitoring operation UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported an incident involving the tanker Andromeda Star at a position about 14 nautical miles southwest of Al Mukha, Yemen. This area is at the north end of the Bab el-Mandeb strait, where Houthi forces have attacked Western shipping many times.

The master of Andromeda Star reported two attacks to UKMTO. In the first, an explosion occurred near the ship, close enough that the crew felt it. In a second attack, two missiles were launched at the ship, resulting in damage to the tanker. A second vessel, the tanker Maisha, was also targeted without success. No injuries were reported, and both vessels continued on their commercial voyages. The Indian Navy responded to Andromeda Star and sent aboard an explosives ordinance disposal team to check for any possible hazards. 

Andromeda Star is reportedly part of the "dark fleet" of lightly-insured, lightly-regulated tankers that carry sanctioned oil - in this case, Russian oil. It is the same ship that found itself in trouble after a collision in the Danish Straits last month - and it provided fake insurance information to regulators after the accident, according to Bloomberg.

At the time of the Houthi attack, the Andromeda Star was under way from Russia to India, and was broadcasting "No Contact With Israel" in its AIS signal. Houthi forces have promised to leave Russian and Chinese shipping alone, but - whether by accident or intent - have repeatedly attacked vessels connected to these two like-minded nations. 

A Houthi spokesman also claimed that the group shot down a U.S. military MQ9 drone aircraft on Friday, and released a video of the attack (above). The Pentagon has not acknowledged the shootdown formally, but an American official quietly confirmed the incident to CBS. It is the third MQ9 lost over the Red Sea since November, when hostilities began. U.S. forces under Central Command have maintained a persistent presence over Yemen to target and destroy Houthi anti-ship munitions "left of launch," before they can harm merchant vessels or coalition warships. 

Separately, the piracy threat in the Western Indian Ocean - which sprung up in tandem with Houthi aggression - appears to continue as a menace to shipping. Despite large-scale arrests and deterrence measures by the Indian Navy, several suspicious approaches have been reported, including one near Socotra on Saturday. A small boat with four people aboard approached the port side of a merchant vessel at a position about 180 nm to the southeast of Nishtun, due north of Socotra. The ship took defensive measures and the craft departed.