Yemen’s Houthis claim missile attack on Norwegian ship Strinda

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The Houthis have threatened shipping in the seas around Yemen and last month seized the Galaxy Leader [File: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

No casualties reported from strike on Strinda tanker as it passed through strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels say they hit a Norwegian tanker in the Iran-aligned group’s latest military operation amid Israel’s war on Gaza.

The Norwegian-owned-and-operated ship, Strinda, was struck on Monday night as it passed through the strategic Bab al-Mandeb Strait separating East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

On Tuesday, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said the group targeted the ship because it was “loaded with oil” bound for Israel.

The crew refused to respond to all warnings, he said in a televised statement, adding the Houthis would continue blocking ships heading to Israeli ports until Israel allows the entry of food and medical aid into the Gaza Strip.

The Strinda, an oil and chemical tanker, was on its way to Italy, according to ship-tracking data. The vessel is part of the fleet of Bergen-based shipping firm Mowinckels Rederi, according to its website.

The company’s chief executive Geir Belsnes confirmed the ship had been “hit by a missile” and caught fire.

“Fortunately, there were no injuries to any member of the crew, who managed to extinguish the fire,” Belsnes told Al Jazeera in an email. “Our focus has been, and remains, the safety and well-being of the seafarers onboard.”

He added that the ship was now “proceeding to a safe port”.

The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) said the attack happened around midnight local time (21:00 GMT) by “what is assessed to have been an Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM) launched from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen”.

The attack comes as threats on commercial shipping in the area amid Israel’s war on Gaza escalate. Houthis have carried out a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea and launched drones and missiles targeting Israel. In recent days, they have threatened to target any vessel they believe is either going to or coming from Israel.

CENTCOM said the USS Mason had responded to Strinda’s mayday call and provided assistance.

The US and France have stopped short of saying their ships have been targeted but have admitted that Houthi drones have headed towards their ships and been shot down in self-defence.

Washington has so far declined to directly respond to the attacks, as has Israel, whose military continues to describe the ships as not having links to their country.

In November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen. The rebels still hold the vessel near the port city of Hodeidah. Separately, a container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean.

A tentative ceasefire between the Houthis and a Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen’s exiled government has been holding after years of fighting that has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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