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Illustration by iStock; Security Management

Houthi Missile Campaign Claims First Fatalities

A Houthi missile strike on a cargo vessel off the southern coast of Yemen resulted in the deaths of three civilian crew members and injuries to four others. The attack is the first to result in fatalities since the Iranian-backed rebels began targeting maritime traffic in the region.

The attack occurred on 6 March after the bulk carrier MV True Confidence was hailed over the radio by men claiming to represent the Yemeni military, who ordered the ship to change its course. The ship was traveling through the Gulf of Aden, carrying steel from China to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, according to the Associated Press (AP).

“The vessel was manned by a crew of 20, comprising one Indian, four Vietnamese, and 15 Filipino nationals,” the BBC reported. “Three armed guards—two from Sri Lanka and one from Nepal—were also on board.”

Those killed included two Filipino and one Vietnamese crew members, according to a statement from the owners and managers of the cargo ship. The ship was Barbados-flagged and Liberian-owned.

After the attack, which occurred roughly 50 nautical miles off the coast of the port city of Aden, the remaining crew abandoned the ship, leaving in lifeboats and eventually landed in Djibouti. Rescue and salvage operations included assistance from a U.S. warship and the Indian Navy. Three of the four injured crew members were reported to be in critical condition.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the region, said an anti-ship ballistic missile was used in the attack.

Shortly after the missile strike, a Houthi military spokesperson claimed that the group was responsible for the attack. The spokesman, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, also claimed True Confidence was targeted because it was an American vessel; however, the owners insist the ship is Liberian, according to the BBC.

“The True Confidence is owned by the Liberian-registered company True Confidence Shipping and operated by the Greece-based Third January Maritime, both firms said in their joint statement,” Al Jazeera reported. “…However, it had previously been owned by Oaktree Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based fund that finances vessels in instalments.”

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Since November 2023, the Houthi militants in Yemen have targeted commercial and military vessels in the gulf, the neighboring Red and Arabian seas, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait—straining the shipping industry. Important trade and maritime traffic rely on these regions because they connect Asia and the Middle East to Europe. To avoid potential drone or missile attacks, some ships have opted to take longer and costlier routes around southern Africa.

The Houthis’ campaign began after Israeli military forces started attacking Palestinians in Gaza. Despite calls from various governments and the United Nations to cease the attacks against international shipping, the Houthis assert their solidarity with Palestinians and that their attacks will continue until the conflict in Gaza Strip ceases.

“The area where the attack took place has become an especially dangerous transit zone as the Houthis have carried out dozens of attacks,” The Washington Post reported.

The United States began an airstrike campaign in January, according to the AP, but “Houthi rebels have remained capable of launching significant attacks. They include the attack last month on a cargo ship carrying fertilizer, the Rubymar, which sank on Saturday after drifting for several days, and the downing of an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.”

The Houthis captured Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014, and have held the city ever since. The group also receives military support, including weapons, from Tehran.