US-Owned Bulker Hit by Houthi Missile, Raising Fears of Escalation

Eagle Bulk's Gibraltar Eagle was hit but reports are that there were no injuries and the vessel is proceeding out of the area (file photo)

Published Jan 15, 2024 12:10 PM by The Maritime Executive


A U.S.-owned bulk carrier with hit by a missile fired from Yemen while sailing in the Gulf of Aden on Monday. While not letting up in their attacks against commercial shipping, there are also concerns that the Houthis are expanding their targets to American interests in retaliation for the strikes conducted by the United States on Thursday and Friday.

U.S. CENTCOM and the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organizations both confirmed the attack against the Gibraltar Eagle (64,000 dwt) coming at approximately 4:00 p.m. local time. The vessel was reported to be 95 nautical miles southeast of Aden and it appears it was taking precautions as its AIS signal was displaying a message “armed guard aboard.”

The ship is owned and managed by the U.S.-based Eagle Bulk and was sailing from South Korea, where it departed on December 24, bound for the Suez Canal. The master advised UKMTO that the vessel was struck by a missile from above impacting the port side of the vessel. The vessel is a standard-size Ultramax dry bulk carrier at 655 feet (200 meters in length) and registered in the Marshall Islands. Built in 2015, it appears the vessel was sold to Eagle Bulk just a year ago.

UKMTO and CENTCOM report there were no “injuries or significant damage,” but security consultant Ambrey believes there was a fire in one of the vessel’s holds. Tracking signals show the vessel made a 180-degree turn heading away from Yemen. Its current destination is unclear.

Late today, Eagle Bulk issued a brief statement confirming that its vessel had been hit by "an unidentified projectile," saying that the crew was uninjured. They reported that there is some damage to one of the vessel's holds. The ship is said to be carrying a cargo of steel products and is "heading out of the area."

CENTCOM is reporting that a second missile was detected about two hours earlier. That one was fired they reported in the direction of shipping in the southern Red Sea but “failed in flight and impacted on land in Yemen.” Ambrey believes there have been a total of three missile launches today. 

Yesterday, CENTCOM reported that another missile was fired in the direction of the USS Laboon, which was operating in the southern Red Sea. The missile was shot down in the vicinity of the coast of Hudaydah by a U.S. aircraft. Further, UKMTO received an additional report of two small boats in the southern Red Sea near Eritrea approaching and attempting to hail an unidentified merchant ship. The vessel was reportedly harassed and told to change course but ignored the small boats which later left the vicinity.

In response to the ongoing incidents, the U.S. Maritime Administration reiterated a warning to U.S. merchant ships. Friday they relayed a message from U.S. Central Command for vessels to remain in the northern portion of the Red Sea or east of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden for 72 hours. That warning was scheduled to expire on January 19.

Today, MARAD writes, “There continues to be a high degree of risk to commercial vessels transiting the southern Red Sea ... While the decision to transit remains at the discretion of individual vessels and companies, it is recommended that U.S. flag and U.S.-owned commercial vessels remain north of 18N in the Red Sea or east of 46E in the Gulf of Aden until further notice.” This warning is extended through February 5 and it will not automatically expire.

Reports from Yemen said that the Houthi continue to say they are targeting Israeli ships and those heading to Israel, but Iranian officials today called on America and Britain “to stop the war against Yemen immediately.” 

President Joe Biden has said the U.S. will continue to protect its interests and global trade. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was touring in the UK on Monday and when asked by reporters said the strikes on the Houthi targets were a “last resort,” after diplomatic efforts failed. Sunak also said the UK would not hesitate to protect security when required.