British and American naval forces shot down 21 drones and missiles fired by Yemen-based Houthis towards the Southern Red Sea, the US said, with Britain hinting at further measures to protect international shipping lanes.
British defence minister Grant Shapps said it was the largest attack in the area by the militants to date as the three-month war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza spills over into other parts of the Middle East.
“This is an unsustainable situation,” Shapps told reporters regarding the incident on January 9, adding “watch this space” with regards to further possible action by the UK and its international partners.
“This cannot continue and cannot be allowed to continue.”
US Central Command said no injuries or damage were reported, adding that it was the 26th Houthi attack on commercial shipping lanes in the Red Sea since November 19.
Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said the Iranian-backed militants fired a large number of ballistic and naval missiles and drones at a US vessel that was “providing support” to Israel.
In a televised speech, Saree did not say what damage, if any, the ship had suffered but added that the operation was a “preliminary response” to a previous American attack that killed 10 Houthi fighters.
The US Fifth Fleet, which is based in the Gulf region and has along with Britain deployed naval forces to protect Red Sea shipping from an upsurge in Houthi attacks, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Houthis, who control most of Yemen, have been targeting Red Sea shipping routes, apparently to show their support for the Hamas terrorists. Germany’s foreign ministry said the latest attacks were a “clear escalation”.
Houthi actions have seriously disrupted international commerce on the key route between Europe and Asia that accounts for about 15 per cent of the world’s shipping traffic.
Many cargo companies have been forced to reroute vessels, taking the longer journey around Cape Agulhas, although several oil majors, refiners and trading houses have continued to use it.
US Central Command said 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile were shot down by the UK and US navies in the incident on January 9.
Shapps said the Royal Navy ship HMS Diamond, which repelled the attacks along with US warships, may have been specifically targeted, adding there was also “a generalised attack on all shipping”.
The Houthis have vowed to continue such assaults until Israel halts the conflict in Gaza and warned they would attack US warships if the militia group itself was targeted.
German shipping firm Hapag Lloyd said on the day of the latest attack it would continue to avoid the Suez Canal and around the Cape of Good Hope for “security reasons”, while its Danish counterpart Maersk has said it would avoid the route “for the foreseeable future”.
Retailers across the world have also been stocking up on goods before China’s Lunar New Year holiday and seeking air or rail alternatives to avoid empty shelves this spring.