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Houthis Blame Western Alliance for Subsea Cable Damage

Destroyer USS Mason under way in the Red Sea
The U.S. Navy has been fighting back against Houthi attacks on shipping for months (USN image)

Published Mar 3, 2024 7:44 PM by The Maritime Executive

Yemen's Houthi militants have blamed the U.S. and the UK for damage to a set of subsea cables in the Red Sea. Three of the 16 subsea internet cables that run through the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb have gone down, according to the Wall Street Journal, degrading internet service to the Subcontinent and East Africa. 

The Houthi leadership has denied any involvement or responsibility for the presumed damage to the cables, and the cause has not been established yet. It is possible that it was unintended: Anchor-drag accidents cut internet cables regularly in locations around the world, and the Red Sea has a high density of subsea telecom infrastructure. For the Houthis, though, it is clear that Western powers are responsible. 

“The hostile acts against Yemen by naval military units belonging to Britain and the United States have caused an outage in the maritime cables in the Red Sea, jeopardizing the security and safety of international communications and the natural flow of information,” the Houthis' putative Ministry of Transport said in a statement Friday. "[The U.S. and UK] are using hostile and illegal methods in their war against Yemen to serve the Zionist enemy (Israel), in order to continue committing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

The ministry added that it is "keenly interested" in the safety and security of subsea cables off the Yemeni coast, particularly since the cables serve nations with which the group has cordial relations. It promised to "provide all services and grant necessary permits" to cable companies to allow them to enter the area and make repairs. 

The latter guarantee, if honored, would be of value to cable operators. The routine drumbeat of Houthi attacks on shipping have driven away half of the Red Sea's usual maritime traffic, and operating a slow-moving cable layer in high-risk waters near Yemen would require assurances from both sides of the standoff. 

Some maritime analysts have noted that the bulker Rubymar, which was hit by a Houthi missile two weeks ago, may have crossed over some of the cable routes while it was abandoned and adrift. The crew dropped anchor before they left their stricken ship, but the vessel meandered northwards for 13 days - potentially dragging anchor - before it finally went down.