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Houthis Target MSC Cargo Ship and US Warship as Launches Increase

USS Laboon
USS Laboon took down a missile fired in its direction by the Houthis (US Navy file photo)

Published Feb 20, 2024 3:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Houthis intensified their launches with U.S. Central Command reporting a barrage of attacks all downed by U.S. and coalition forces in the past 24 hours. This came after Houthi spokesperson Yahya Saree threatened a further escalation of their efforts undeterred by the coalition forces.

Today the same spokesperson took credit for what he called “a targeting operation against an Israeli ship MSC Silver in the Gulf of Aden.” He claimed the attack was carried out by “a number of suitable naval missiles.”

Security analysts are confirming the reports of an attack targeting a cargo ship inbound to Somalia. The vessel is a general cargo ship registered in Liberia, the MSC Silver II (37,500 dwt), managed by MSC Shipmanagement out of Cyprus. The vessel is general cargo with deck cranes and has been outfitted to carry about 800 containers. She has been operating in the area including past port calls in Aden, Yemen.

The MSC Silver II was reportedly not damaged and her AIS signal shows she is now docked in Berbera, Somalia. She was coming from Sri Lanka. MSC has said that its containerships are diverting for the Red Sea due to the ongoing security threat.

Overnight the U.S. reported a virtual shooting gallery between its warships and coalition forces. Separately the French are reporting that their warships also downed drones launched from Yemen. The Houthi spokesperson is saying they targeted the American ships and claimed hits, which are all denied by CENTCOM.

The U.S. strikes started at around 17:00 local time with CENTCOM reporting that a surface-to-air missile launcher was located and destroyed. Despite that, the Houthi launched another anti-ship ballistic missile about an hour later which U.S. forces said did not impact any commercial or coalition vessels.

The Houthi then launched drones about 30 minutes after that with CENTCOM confirming the earlier report that one of what they termed a “one-way attack unmanned aerial vehicle” struck the Navis Fortuna, a Marshall Islands-flagged, U.S.-owned, bulk carrier. The 37,850 dwt vessel reportedly suffered minor damage and no injuries to the crew. The ship continued its voyage toward Italy.

Over the next five hours, CENCOM reported that one additional drone was located in western Yemen prepared to launch at ships in the Red Sea. It was also destroyed. In addition, U.S. and coalition aircraft and warships shot down 10 additional drones operating over the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Finally, shortly after midnight, the USS Laboon also identified one anti-ship cruise missile headed in its direction. The USS Laboon shot down the missile with CENTCOM reporting no damage or injury to the American crew.

Saree in his statements on social media vows that the Houthi will continue their strikes targeting Israeli shipping interests as well as the U.S. and UK forces in retaliation for the strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen. So far, he has not acknowledged the French or the new EU effort to also protect maritime security in the region.