In a dramatic incident, U.S. helicopters successfully thwarted an attack by Iran-backed Houthi militants on the Maersk container vessel in the Red Sea. Reports from American, Maersk, and Houthi officials indicate that three ships were sunk, and 10 militants lost their lives during the confrontation on Sunday.
The clash unfolded around 0330 GMT when the attackers attempted to board the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou. Responding to a distress call, helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely, alongside the ship's security team, engaged with the assailants, as confirmed by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
Houthi officials asserted that the attack was launched because the ship's crew ignored warning calls. A Houthi spokesman stated that 10 Houthi naval personnel were "dead and missing" after their boats came under attack by U.S. forces in the Red Sea.
This naval battle underscores the potential for regional escalation amid Israel's ongoing bombing campaign following a Hamas cross-border attack in October. The conflict has claimed numerous lives, and Israel's bombardment continues to escalate tensions.
Yemen's Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, expressing support for Hamas, have led major shipping companies to opt for the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope, bypassing the Suez Canal. The Red Sea is a critical entry point for ships using the Suez Canal, handling about 12% of global trade and facilitating the movement of goods between Asia and Europe.
To counter such threats, the United States initiated Operation Prosperity Guardian on Dec. 19, with over 20 countries participating in safeguarding ships in Red Sea waters near Yemen. Despite Maersk's decision to resume sailing through the Red Sea, attacks persist, and some U.S. allies remain hesitant to publicly declare their presence in the coalition.
The recent Houthi attempt to board the Maersk Hangzhou marks the second attack on the vessel within two days. Despite these challenges, Maersk reports that the crew is safe, and the vessel, carrying 14,000 containers from Singapore, continues its journey north toward the Suez Canal.
The international community, including the United States, France, and the UK, condemns these attacks. British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps affirmed the commitment to take direct action against unlawful seizures and attacks, emphasizing the resolve to hold malign actors accountable.
In response to the situation, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged Iran to help halt Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. The BIMCO shipping association expressed gratitude for U.S., French, and UK efforts in repelling the attacks, calling for more states to support the coalition through diplomatic pressure on the Houthis and their sponsors.
The unfolding events in the Red Sea underscore the complexities and challenges faced by the international community in maintaining maritime security in the region. The situation remains dynamic, with nations closely monitoring developments to ensure the safety of global maritime trade routes.