The maritime clash took place at approximately 0330 GMT on Sunday when the Houthis attempted to board the Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou. In response to a distress call, helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely, along with the vessel’s security team, repulsed the attackers, as reported by Maersk and the US Central Command (CENTCOM).
Following the incident, Maersk announced a 48-hour suspension of its Red Sea operations.
A Houthi spokesperson acknowledged their involvement in the attack, citing the ship’s crew’s disregard for their warnings. He reported that 10 Houthi naval members were either killed or missing following the U.S. counteraction in the Red Sea.
This naval engagement highlights the potential for regional conflict escalation, particularly in the context of Israel’s ongoing airstrikes in response to a surprise attack by Hamas on Israeli towns on October 7, which resulted in 1,200 deaths and 240 hostages. The Israeli response has led to over 21,800 fatalities, as per Gazan health authorities.
The Houthis have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea since November in solidarity with Hamas, compelling major shipping firms to opt for the lengthier and more expensive route around Cape of Good Hope instead of the Suez Canal. The Red Sea is a crucial entry point to the Suez Canal, which is vital for Asia-Europe trade, handling around 12% of global commerce.
On December 19, the United States initiated Operation Prosperity Guardian with participation from over 20 countries to ensure maritime security near Yemen in the Red Sea.
Despite Maersk’s decision to resume Red Sea operations on December 24, ongoing attacks and limited coalition support have persisted, with many allies hesitant to publicly declare their involvement.
The recent failed boarding attempt on the Maersk Hangzhou marks the second such attack within two days. The vessel, transporting 14,000 containers from Singapore, had previously been struck by a missile near Al Hodeidah, Yemen. Maersk confirmed the crew’s safety and reported no fire on board, with the ship proceeding towards the Suez Canal.
In response to inquiries about potential U.S. actions against the Houthis, White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby emphasized the seriousness with which the U.S. views these threats, without detailing specific strategies.
British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, in a Daily Telegraph article, expressed the UK’s readiness for direct action to safeguard Red Sea navigation, warning the Houthis against underestimating their resolve.
British Foreign Secretary David Cameron urged Iran in a conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian to intervene in stopping Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.
The BIMCO shipping association, condemning the attacks, expressed gratitude for the efforts of the U.S., France, and the UK, and called for broader state support and diplomatic pressure on the Houthis and their backers. Jakob Larsen, head of maritime safety and security at BIMCO, communicated this stance to Reuters.