A Norwegian-owned vessel was attacked in the Red Sea on Monday in a strike that US officials said originated from Yemeni territory controlled by the Iran-aligned Houthi militias.
The attack on the M/V Swan Atlantic was the latest in a series on ships sailing the sea since the start of the Gaza war.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the US officials, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters the vessel was attacked by multiple projectiles launched from Houthi-controlled territory.
The owner of the ship said it was hit by an unidentified object and that none of its crew had been injured.
Oystein Elgan, chief executive of owner Inventor Chemical Tankers, told Reuters the ship’s water tank had been damaged in the attack but all the vessel’s systems were operating normally.
Operator Uni-Tankers said in a statement the crew had brought under control a small fire after the vessel was struck on its port side. The ship was carrying vegetable oils and is sailing to Reunion Island.
The Houthis have attacked vessels in the Red Sea area in protest at Israel’s offensive in Gaza, launched in response to the Hamas rampage in southern Israel on Oct. 7. They say they are attacking vessels with links to Israel and have warned against sailing towards there.
Inventor Chemical Tankers has no ties to Israel, Elgan said. A US Navy destroyer responded to the ship’s distress calls by moving towards the ship, the US officials said.
A British maritime authority said earlier that it had received a report of a possible explosion two nautical miles from a vessel located 30 nautical miles south of the Yemeni port of Mokha.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) authority said in separate advisories it had received reports of a second incident 30 nautical miles northwest of Mokha and another incident 24 nautical miles southeast of the port. No other information was given in the reports.
It was not immediately clear whether any of the reports related to the M/V Swan Atlantic.
Two major freight firms including MSC, the world’s biggest container shipping line, said over the weekend they would avoid the Suez Canal in response to the attacks by the Houthis, who staged a coup against the legitimate government in 2014.
The Suez Canal shipping route, which leads to the Red Sea, is a vital waterway for global trade, used to transport energy and other goods between Europe and Asia, and elsewhere. The route saves on time and expense by avoiding having to navigate around the entire Africa continent.
The Houthis have pledged to continue their attacks until Israel stops its assault, but said on Saturday that real steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip would contribute to “reducing the escalation”. They also said that they were in Oman-mediated talks about its sea “operations”.
That was the first indication that the militias may be willing to de-escalate. The US has said it is seeking an expanded coalition to protect ships in the Red Sea and to send a signal to the Houthis, who have also fired drones and missiles at Israel since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.