Houthis attack chemical tanker after learning it was en route to Israel

Norwegian-owned chemical tanker Strinda (IMO 9330771) was struck by a cruise missile on Tuesday December 11th while passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. US Central Command, which identified the ship, said that it suffered a fire onboard but that no crew were injured.

Its official traffic plan was that it was en route from Tanjung Langsat, Singapore to Italy, via Suez. However, in what looked to have been an error of judgement, Ashdod Port in Israel had stated on its website that the ship was due to call there. The Houthis had stated at the weekend that any vessel in the Red Sea heading for Israel would be considered a military target.

The attack on the Strinda took place about 60nm north of the Bab al-Mandab Strait at about 21:00 GMT. US Navy destroyer USS Mason was there and rendered aid, the officials said.

US Central Command assessed that the Strinda was hit by a Yemeni anti-ship cruise missile.

The Yemeni Navy initially had previously ordered that the vessel alter course to Yemen. In response the Strinda changed course, but not towards Yemen. Rather, it tried to sail further west, away from the Yemeni coast. It was then that the Houthis launched the Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM) from a Houthi controlled area of Yemen. The attack occurred when the ship was about 15nm west of the port of Mokha.

UK-based maritime security specialist Ambrey reported that a Chinese containership appeared to take evasive action to put distance between it and the chemical tanker around the time of the attack.

The Strinda has no obvious ties to Israel: it is Norwegian-flagged, owned and operated, and its ISM manager is based in Singapore. Its AIS record did not show any calls in Israeli ports within the last year. Presumably, therefore, the Houthis’ action was based solely on the announcement on the Port of Ashdod web site.

The Israeli government has threatened to take action to stop Houthi attacks on shipping if others do not step in first. “Israel is giving the world some time to organize in order to prevent this but if there isn’t to be a global arrangement, because it is a global issue, we will act in order to remove this naval siege,” said Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, speaking to local media on Saturday.

The Israeli port of Ashdod said that attacks on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Houthis were a strategic threat to global shipping routes and seaborne traffic to Israel, although there had been no direct impact on port activity.

The US has preferred to seek international cooperation, building a coalition based on the existing Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) coalition, to maintain maritime security in the region. The US has so far declined to take unilateral action against Houthi forces on the ground. Saudi Arabia, which backs the Yemeni government against the Iran-aligned Houthis, has asked the US to show restraint in responding to the attacks.

During the first week of December, three commercial vessels came under attack in international waters, prompting a US Navy destroyer to intervene. The Houthis also seized the Galaxy Leader, which remains under detention in Hodeidah.

The Strinda is owned by J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi, and was now making for a nearby safe port to assess the damage done by the missile strike. The vessel had armed guards onboard for its passage through the Red Sea.

Danish shipping company Maersk, which is not connected with the Strinda, said on Monday, before the attack on the Strinda became known, that its services in Israel were operational and stable, although it was watching closely developments in the country. “Bookings for ocean, rail, road and air services to and from Israel… continue to be accepted and facilitated,” Maersk said in a statement.

The price of oil rose on Tuesday December 11th after the attack on the Strinda. However, concerns over excess supply and slowing demand kept gains to a muted level.

Brent crude futures for February rose by 21¢ (0.3%) to $76.24 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate crude futures for January delivery were up by 27¢ (0.4%) to $71.59 a barrel. 2006-built, Norway-flagged, 11,729 gt Strinda is owned by Mowinckel Chemical Tankers care of manager Hansa Tankers of Bergen, Norway. ISM manager is Diamond Ship Management Pte. It is entered with Skuld (Skuld bergen) on behalf of J Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi