Houthi militias have launched the biggest attack yet on merchant vessels in the Red Sea

In this image taken on January 9, 2024, a model of a cargo ship is seen in front of the words “Red Sea” and “Houthi Attacks”.

Nut Ruvic | Reuters

US and coalition forces, part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, responded in the Red Sea on Tuesday to what US officials described as the largest-ever attack on merchant vessels by the Iran-backed Houthis.

“We are aware of reports of an incident in the Red Sea,” said a senior defense ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing operation.

Attacks were reported in at least two locations: southwest of Mokha, Yemen, and Hodeidah, Yemen.

According to US officials, approximately 50 merchant vessels were in the area at the time of the attack. Crews reported attacks by rocket fire as well as armed drones. As of Tuesday evening, no vessels had yet reported damage from the attacks.

Four coalition warships have been deployed to the area, Pentagon officials told CNBC. No Iranian warships were involved. “This is the largest attack on commercial shipping,” a national security official told CNBC.

It was also the first large-scale attack by the Houthis since 13 countries, including the United States, issued a joint statement pledging to hold the militants accountable for attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

CENTCOM reported that an unmanned drone launched by the Houthis was shot down by the USS Laboon (DDG 59) on 6 January.

Global maritime security firm Ambrey reported that coalition warships were moving at “maximum speed”. Ambrey also reported that the tanker crew saw flares or gunshots in the waters off Mokha.

The crew of the bulk carrier reported seeing three small vessels and reported that two rockets were fired from the direction of the boats. They also reportedly saw a drone flying in front of the vessel.

The Iran-backed Houthi militia warned in December that it would not reduce the number of attacks until Gaza received “the food and medicine it needs”.

Israel has carried out a massive bombing campaign in Gaza since Hamas killed more than 1,000 people in Israel in October. The bombing of Gaza has so far claimed more than 20,000 lives.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates

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