Houthi Rebels Suspected of Expanding Naval Attacks, Striking Ship Further from Previous Targets

Officials reported a potential Houthi rebel attack on a ship Monday, occurring further away from previous assaults in the Gulf of Aden. This incident could signal an escalation in the group’s activities.

The attack follows the departure of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower after an eight-month deployment leading the American response to Houthi assaults. These attacks have significantly reduced shipping through the crucial route for Asian, Middle East, and European markets. The Houthis have stated this campaign will continue as long as the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza persists.

The attack occurred Monday morning in the Gulf of Aden, roughly 280 miles southeast of Nishtun, a town on Yemen’s border with Oman. This region has been under the control of forces allied with the exiled Yemeni government, who have been engaged in conflict with the Houthis since the rebels seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

The attack took place just northeast of Yemen’s Socotra Island, also controlled by allies of the exiled government.

“The master of a merchant vessel reports an explosion in close proximity to the vessel,” the UKMTO said. “The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call.”

No further information about the attack was immediately available.

Suspicion immediately fell on the Houthis, who have not yet claimed responsibility for the assault. The rebels often take hours or days to acknowledge their attacks. While Somali pirates have been known to operate in the region, their activities typically involve seizing vessels for ransom rather than launching attacks.

However, this attack occurred near the outer reaches of the Gulf of Aden, where it transitions into the Arabian Sea and ultimately the Indian Ocean. Among the over 60 attacks launched by the Houthis since November targeting vessels, this would be one of the furthest.

In May, a Portuguese-flagged container ship was attacked by a drone in the outer reaches of the Arabian Sea. The Houthis claimed responsibility for this attack, but the distance at which it occurred led experts to question whether Iran, the Houthis’ primary supporter, could have been involved. The Houthis have previously claimed responsibility for attacks attributed to Iran, including the 2019 attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields that temporarily reduced the kingdom’s energy production.

The Houthis have made a series of claims, without evidence, of targeting vessels at even greater distances, though there has been no independent confirmation of these attacks actually occurring.

The rebels have launched other missiles and drones in their campaign, resulting in the deaths of four sailors. They have seized one vessel and sunk two since November. A U.S.-led airstrike campaign targeting the Houthis began in January, with a series of strikes on May 30 killing at least 16 people and injuring 42 others, according to the rebels.

The Houthis have asserted that their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the United States, or Britain. However, many of the ships targeted have little or no connection to the Israel-Hamas war, including those bound for Iran.