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U.S. warship, commercial ships encounter drone and missile attacks in the Red Sea, officials say


U.S. warship, commercial ships encounter drone and missile attacks in the Red Sea, officials say

A U.S. Navy warship shot down drones fired at various commercial vessels in the Red Sea on Sunday, officials said, with at least one commercial ship encountering a missile fired in its direction. Meanwhile, Yemen’s Houthi military claimed responsibility for targeting two Israeli ships in that area with drones as well as missile strikes, driving concerns over the rebel group’s involvement in the Israel-Hamas war.

“Today, there were four attacks against three separate commercial vessels operating in international waters in the southern Red Sea. These three vessels are connected to 14 separate nations,” U.S. Central Command confirmed in a statement Sunday. 

The American warship seems to have initially shot down a drone from Yemen that was fired in its direction in the Red Sea, with a missile subsequently fired in the direction of the Unity Explorer, a commercial ship in the area, according to an official at the U.S. Department of Defense. The USS Carney shot down another drone fired in its direction as it moved to assist the Unity Explorer, the official said, noting at the time that an exchange of fire was ongoing.  

But a preliminary assessment indicated that the USS Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was not targeted nor was it attacked by the oncoming drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea, another U.S. official said later on Sunday. The warship encountered those strikes while it was responding to the distress calls of commercial ships in the region, which were fired upon, according to the official.

“The Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer USS CARNEY responded to the distress calls from the ships and provided assistance,” CENTCOM said.

The ballistic missiles were fired toward the Unity Explorer, Number 9 and Sophie II, CENTCOM said, adding that “the attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security … [and] have jeopardized the lives of international crews.”

The Unity Explorer reported “minor damage” from the strike, and Sophie II reported “no significant damage,” CENTCOM said.

CENTOM said it had “every reason” to believe the attacks, while launched by the Houthi military, were “fully enabled by Iran.”

This Nov. 12, 2018 photo shows The USS Carney in the Mediterranean Sea.

Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan U. Kledzik / AP

Yahya Sarea, a spokesperson for the Houthi military, Yemen’s armed rebel group, claimed responsibility for attacks on two Israeli ships in the Red Sea on Sunday. “The targeting operation came after the two ships rejected warning messages from the Yemeni naval forces,” Sarea wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“This morning, the naval forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces, with the help of Allah Almighty, carried out a targeting operation against two Israeli ships in Bab al-Mandab, namely the ‘Unity Explorer’ ship and the ‘Number Nine’ ship,” the Yemeni military spokesperson said. “The first ship was targeted with a naval missile and the second ship with a naval drone.”

“The Yemeni armed forces continue to prevent Israeli ships from navigating the Red and Arab Seas until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops,” the spokesperson continued. “The Yemeni Armed Forces renew their warning to all Israeli ships or those associated with Israelis that they will become a legitimate target if they violate what is stated in this statement and previous statements issued by the Yemeni Armed Forces.”

The drone and missile strikes raised concerns about a potential escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with the involvement of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi group underscoring fears that conflict could spread to other parts of the Middle East. 

Video released by Houthi rebels around two weeks ago showed armed fighters seizing a cargo ship in the Red Sea, after the group claimed responsibility for multiple missile and drone attacks aimed at Israel earlier in November. That claim came on the heels of  an announcement by the Israel Defense Forces saying soldiers had intercepted a strike coming from Yemen. And, in the weeks following the attack on Israel by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 and Israel’s declaration of war on the Palestinian group, the Pentagon said a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Red Sea had shot down cruise missiles and drones launched by the Houthis, which may have been aimed at Israel.

David Martin, Eleanor Watson and Kristin Brown contributed to this report. 

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