Another Merchant Ship with Indian Crew Hit in Red Sea, Indian Navy Responds
NEW DELHI, Jan 27: A guided-missile destroyer of the Indian Navy has responded to a distress call from a merchant ship with Indian and Bangladeshi crew struck by a Houthi anti-ship missile in the Gulf of Aden on Friday.
While the ship was learnt to have caught fire and reported damage, no casualty or injury was reported. The Marshall Islands-flagged Marlin Luanda has 22 Indians and a Bangladeshi crew on-board, the Indian Navy said in a post on X on Saturday.
Guided-missile destroyer INS Visakhapatnam responded to an SOS call by the vessel, the Indian Navy said and added that fire-fighting efforts on-board the distressed merchant vessel was being augmented by the Nuclear Biological Chemical Defence and Damage Control (NBCD) team in the warship. The US military had earlier said a US Navy ship and other vessels were providing assistance after Marlin Luanda was hit by a Houthi missile.
The Indian Navy said INS Visakhapatnam is helping with firefighting on the cargo ship. “Indian Navy remains steadfast and committed towards safeguarding merchant vessels and ensuring safety of life at sea,” the navy said in the statement.
The missile strike comes amid growing concerns over Houthi militants stepping up attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea amid the Israel-Hamas conflict. Admiral R Hari Kumar issued instructions to firmly deal with such maritime incidents.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi militants have launched waves of exploding drones and missiles at vessels since November 19, in response to Israel’s military operations in Gaza. Some shipping companies have suspended transits through the Red Sea and taken much longer, costlier journeys around Africa. The US and British warplanes, ships and submarines have launched dozens of retaliatory airstrikes across Yemen against Houthi forces.
On January 18, a merchant vessel with Indian crew members came under attack by drones in the Gulf of Aden. After receiving a distress call, India deployed INS Visakhapatnam, which intercepted the vessel and gave assistance.
Liberian-flagged MV Chem Pluto, with 21 Indian crew members, was the target of a drone attack off India’s west coast on December 23. Besides MV Chem Pluto, another commercial oil tanker that was heading to India came under a suspected drone strike in the Southern Red Sea on the same day. The vessel had a team of 25 Indian crew.
Yemen’s Houthis claimed Friday a missile strike on a British oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden that set the vessel on fire, the latest attack on international shipping by the Iran-backed rebels. It came the same day the US military said one of its warships shot down a missile fired at it by the group, which is acting in support of Palestinians in Gaza amid the Israel-Hamas war.
The US and British forces have launched two rounds of joint strikes aimed at reducing the Houthis’ ability to target vessels transiting the key Red Sea maritime trade route. Washington has also carried out a series of unilateral air raids, but the Houthis have vowed to continue their attacks.
The British oil tanker, the Marlin Luanda, was hit by missiles fired by Yemeni naval forces, said the group’s military spokesman Yahya Saree. “The strike was direct, and resulted (in) the burning of the vessel,” he added.
Risk monitor Ambrey said a missile strike southeast of the Yemeni port of Aden set a merchant ship on fire. “At the time of writing, the crew were reported safe,” it added.
In the incident involving the US Navy vessel, the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile from Yemen towards the destroyer USS Carney in the Gulf of Aden, said US Central Command. “The missile was successfully shot down by USS Carney. There were no injuries or damage reported,” CENTCOM said.
Ambrey said earlier a Panama-flagged oil tanker “reported seeing two blasts” in the Gulf of Aden, a report that was corroborated by the British navy’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations. No damage was reported. The security firm said the missiles exploded about a mile from the India-affiliated oil tanker and 200-300 metres (650-1,000 feet) above the waterline. UKMTO said they detonated in the water.
The Houthis began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israeli-linked vessels to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. They have since declared US and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.
In addition to strikes targeting the Houthis, the United States is leading a coalition to protect Red Sea shipping — an effort the Pentagon has likened to a highway patrol for the waterway. Washington is also seeking to put diplomatic and financial pressure on the Houthis, redesignating them as a terrorist organisation last week after previously dropping that label soon after President Joe Biden took office.
The attacks by the rebels — who are part of the anti-Israel, anti-West alliance of Iranian proxies and allies — have disrupted trade in the Red Sea, which carries around 12 percent of international maritime traffic. Several shipping firms have diverted from the Red Sea, instead taking the longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
This new pressure follows difficult years for the industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, when freight rates reached unprecedented levels due to disruptions to supply chains.