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Houthis attack Hong Kong-owned tankship, probably with Russian oil

The promise from the Houthis in Yemen that Chinese and Russian ships would be given safe passage (see next story) appears to be falling down because the Houthis keep making mistakes about who owns, operates and has a financial interest in vessels.

The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that a considerable number of older tankers have changed hands over the past 24 months, sometimes more than once, with an increased level of opacity surrounding some of the trades, given the emergence of a “shadow” fleet.

On Saturday US Central Command (CENTCOM) reported that the Houthis had fired five anti-ship ballistic missiles at oil tanker Huang Pu (IMO 9402469). The tanker did not suffer a great deal of damage, although a small fire did break out on board. This was reported to have been extinguished rapidly. All crew members reported safe, with no casualties.

UKMTO had also said, without identifying the vessel, that a ship had been struck by an unidentified projectile when 23nm west of Yemen’s Mukha, and had caught fire. “The resulting fire was successfully extinguished by the crew. Vessel and crew reported safe. Vessel continuing to next port of call”, UKMTO said.

Why did the Houthis target a Chinese vessel which, since it had departed Ust-Luga at the end of February and was sailing in the direction of Asia, was most likely carrying Russian oil? The simple answer is that the Houthis seem to be relying on out-of-date information. The ship has undergone a rapid sequence of name changes, being known as the Anatavos II until the beginning of 2024, when it was renamed the Taurus II. Just a month later it became the Huang Pu.

The vessel also changed ownership, and also appeared to have gone through a couple of changes of ISM manager, although whether the second change entailed a change of operating personnel is not certain.

While Huang Pu’s record lists a Hong Kong address, it does not confirm the nationality of the ultimate beneficial owner.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree, normally quick to claim credit for thee Houthis when a vessel in the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden is struck by a missile, has remained noticeably quiet on this incident. It would appear that the Houthis know that they have made a mistake on this one.

2009-built, Panama-flagged, 63,294 gt Huang Pu is owned and managed by single-vessel recently former operation Hera Gam Ltd of Hong Kong, China. Its ISM manager is possibly based in Zhejiang, China, although Equasis gives two different names in two parts of its listing. It is not easy to establish the true geographical location of the beneficial owner solely from a Hong Kong address. That said, the route of the vessel, the fact that it claimed on AIS to be Chinese crew and owner, and the location of its ISM manager seem to hint that Chinese interests are its beneficial owner.

The Huang Pu was reported as having departed Ust-Luga, northern Russia, on February 29th. It would therefore seem a reasonable assumption that it was carrying Russian oil. Since it headed for the Mediterranean and then through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, it would also be reasonable to assume that the vessel was heading for Asia, and most likely China, which has become a big buyer of Russian oil (at a generous discount) in recent months.