The British fuel tanker operated on behalf of trading giant Trafigura, was on fire after it was struck by a missile as it transited the Red Sea, in the most significant attack yet by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on an oil-carrying vessel.
Yemen’s Houthis said on Friday their naval forces carried out an operation targeting “the British oil tanker Marlin Luanda” in the Gulf of Aden causing a fire to break out. They used “a number of appropriate naval missiles, the strike was direct,” the Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said in a statement.
“Firefighting equipment on board is being deployed to suppress and control the fire caused in one cargo tank on the starboard side,” a Trafigura spokesperson said in a statement. “We remain in contact with the vessel and are monitoring the situation carefully. Military ships in the region are underway to provide assistance.”
The area in question and the southern Red Sea have been the center of multiple attacks on ships by Houthi militants in recent weeks. Since mid-November, the Houthis have launched near daily attacks on vessels transiting the waterway, in an act of solidarity with Palestinians amid the war between Israel and the militant group Hamas. The conflict has rerouted trade flows as some shippers avoid the key waterway.
The tanker, headed toward Singapore, was carrying naphtha, which is used to produce gasoline and plastics. Ironically, the naphtha was of Russian origin, Trafigura said.
“The vessel is carrying Russian-origin naphtha purchased below price cap in line with G7 sanctions,” a spokesperson said, however some have voiced questions about how a venerated Swiss merchant procured the Russian commodity.
Pretty much all origins naphtha is trading below the price cap, but, why would Trafi load from 3 different dark fleet tankers doing STS in Kalamata (GR)? Is more efficient to direct load in Novorossyks… that is if you are legit
— Oil Bandit 🛢️ (@OilCfd) January 26, 2024
The attack, the most serious yet since Houthi militants effectively took control of transit in the Red Sea, will raise fresh questions about whether oil tankers will continue to transit the Red Sea. Since joint US and UK airstrikes on the Houthis earlier this month, tanker traffic in the region has declined, but some vessels have continued to pass through, including those hauling oil from Russia and toward China. Other key oil exporters like Saudi Arabia said this week that they were planning to continue using the route.
As Bloomberg correctly, if unironically, points out, the latest attack suggests that the US and its allies haven’t sufficiently degraded the Houthis’ military capabilities two weeks after launching the first of several airstrikes on the group’s missiles, radars and other assets across Yemen. Of course, it also means that the Biden-spearheaded operation “Prosperity Guardian” which was meant to secure passage of ships in the Red Sea is now literally up in flames.
Last weekend, US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said military actions to deter the Houthis and other groups backed by Iran would take time.
“Deterrence is not a light switch,” Finer told ABC, trying to explain why nobody takes the US seriously any more. “We are taking out these stockpiles so they will not be able to conduct so many attacks over time. That will take time to play out.”
In its update on the incident, the UK Navy advised ships to transit with caution and said authorities are responding.
Earlier Friday, missiles exploded near a Panama-flagged, India-affiliated ship carrying barrels from Russia, according to Ambrey. Although a Houthi spokesman told the Russian newspaper Izvestia last week that Russian and Chinese ships sailing through the Red Sea would be safe, Friday’s attack was the third in the vicinity of a vessel that had previously called on a Russian port.