A British-linked container ship caught fire in the Gulf of Aden after it was hit by a missile fired by Houthi rebels.
Photographs released by the Indian navy on Saturday showed smoke billowing from the Martin Luanda tanker as its crew battled to control a fire in a fuel compartment.
The Houthis said the attack was revenge for British and American strikes on their positions in Yemen in what was the terror group’s latest attack on international shipping in the region.
Brig Gen Yahya Saree, a Houthi spokesman, said: “In vindication of the oppressed Palestinian people, and in response to the American-British aggression against our country, Yemen naval forces targeted the British oil ship in the Gulf of Aden.”
The Marlin Luanda was transporting naphtha, a highly flammable fuel used in cigarette lighters and the production of plastics, when it was struck 60 nautical miles south of the Yemeni coast late on Friday.
“This is Marlin Luanda. We are hit by a missile. We are hit by a missile. We are on fire. We are on fire. Starboard-side deck is on fire,” a crew member can be heard saying in an apparent recording of the vessel’s mayday distress signal.
Trafigura, the Singapore-based multinational trading firm that owns the ship, said the naphtha cargo originated from Russia but was bought “in line with G7 sanctions”.
“Firefighting equipment on board is being deployed to suppress and control the fire caused in one cargo tank on the starboard side,” it said in a statement.
No injuries reported
The crew on board the ship, which is operated by British-registered Oceonix Services, suffered no injuries and initially boarded lifeboats as a precaution.
Trafigura said shortly after midday on Saturday that the fire in the vessel’s cargo tank had been “fully extinguished” and it is “sailing towards a safe harbour”.
It praised the “exceptional dedication and bravery” of the ship’s master and crew, who brought the fire under control “in highly difficult circumstances”.
The United States Central Command said it had launched a “self-defence” air strike on a Houthi missile launch site eight hours after the attack on the Marlin Luanda.
“This action will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US Navy vessels and merchant vessels,” it said in a statement.
U.S. Conducts Self-Defense Strike Against Houthi Anti-Ship Missile
On Jan. 27 at approximately 3:45 a.m. (Sanaa time), U.S. Central Command Forces conducted a strike against a Houthi anti-ship missile aimed into the Red Sea and which was prepared to launch. U.S. Forces… pic.twitter.com/UcHqDiyT1I
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) January 27, 2024
Al-Masira, a Yemeni Houthi-ran broadcaster, said two air strikes had targeted the port of Issa, which is Yemen’s largest oil export terminal.
The USS Carney, a French frigate and the Indian missile destroyer INS Visakhapatnam responded to the Marlin Luanda’s mayday signal.
The Indian Navy said 22 Indians and one Bangladeshi national were on board.
Attacks ‘completely unacceptable’
A British government spokesman said on Friday night: “We are aware of reports that the motor vessel Marlin Luanda, a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, has sustained damage from attack in the Gulf of Aden. Current reports suggest no casualties and nearby coalition vessels are on the scene.
“We have been clear that any attacks on commercial shipping are completely unacceptable and that the UK and our allies reserve the right to respond appropriately.”
Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, condemned the “intolerable and illegal” attack on “innocent people and global trade”.
“It is our duty to protect freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and we remain as committed to that cause as ever,” he said.
The Houthis have repeatedly launched attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November in protest against Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, endangering shipping on a key route for global trade.
Alongside numerous air strikes on key Houthi targets, the UK and US are also targeting key figures in the Iran-backed militant group with sanctions.
A second series of UK and US air strikes carried out at the start of the week, appears to have done little to deter Houthi action.