The United States military targeted and successfully destroyed three boats controlled by Houthi rebels with ties to Iran. This action resulted in the elimination of the crews, as they attempted to launch an attack on a Maersk container vessel in the Red Sea on the early morning of Sunday, according to officials.
Helicopters deployed from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely warships engaged in gunfire with four small boats linked to Iranian-backed Houthi forces. Three of these boats were successfully sunk during the response to a distress signal from the Singapore-flagged vessel Maersk Hangzhou around 6:30 a.m. local time, as reported by the US Central Command (CENTCOM). Haaretz has indicated that ten Houthi rebels lost their lives in the incident.
Following the incident, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby emphasized that the United States has no intention of escalating the conflict. He asserted that the boats were sunk in self-defense. However, Kirby issued a cautionary statement, indicating that the U.S. is prepared to take preemptive action if necessary to safeguard its interests.
“We’ve got significant national security interests in the region just on our own, the United States, and we’re going to put the kind of forces we need in the region to protect those interests, and we’re going to act in self-defense going forward. We don’t seek a conflict wider in the region, and we’re not looking for a conflict with the Houthis. The best outcome here would be for the Houthis to stop these attacks, as we have made clear over and over again.” Kirby stated.
When questioned about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike by the US, Kirby stated that they are not excluding any options. However, he emphasized that there is a clear public message to the Houthis and a private communication with allies and partners in the region. The message underscores the seriousness with which these threats are regarded, and assures that well-considered decisions will be made moving forward.
The fourth boat managed to evade the attack, initiated in self-defense, according to officials.
Hailing from Houthi-controlled regions in Yemen, the operators of these boats fired upon the Maersk Hangzhou with the intention of boarding it, approaching as closely as 65 feet, as reported by CENTCOM.
On Saturday night, the USS Gravely successfully intercepted and neutralized two ballistic missiles launched from areas controlled by the Houthi rebels in Yemen. This action occurred in response to a missile strike targeting the same ship as it sailed through the southern Red Sea.
No injuries were reported during that incident.
The Houthis, with backing from Iran, have asserted responsibility for attacks on vessels they allege are affiliated with Israel or destined for Israeli ports.
Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have significantly impacted global trade, as this waterway serves as the entry point for ships using the Suez Canal—a crucial route accounting for approximately 12% of world trade, facilitating the movement of goods between Asia and Europe.
In response to the conflict, major shipping companies have chosen to take a longer and more costly route around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope to avoid the disruptions caused by the attacks.
To address these challenges and ensure the safety of ships navigating the Red Sea near Yemen, the US Pentagon initiated Operation Prosperity Guardian on December 19. This multinational operation aims to protect vessels during the ongoing conflict.