Crew members on the tanker Marlin Luanda succeeded in extinguishing a blaze in one of the vessel’s tanks on Saturday, 19 hours after a Houthi missile strike in the Gulf of Aden.
Friday’s attack was the most damaging of the more than 30 strikes by Houthis on commercial ships in the past three months. The ship was carrying a Russian-produced refined oil product on behalf of commodities trader Trafigura.
Trafigura said on Saturday that the fire in a cargo tank on the 250m-long ship had been “fully extinguished”.
“The vessel is now sailing towards a safe harbour,” Trafigura said. “The crew continues to monitor the vessel and cargo closely.”
Previous Houthi strikes, which have mostly hit container ships or ships for dry bulk commodities, have caused minimal damage and any fires have been quickly extinguished. This attack will probably prompt more shipowners to avoid the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
Trafigura paid tribute to the “exceptional dedication and bravery” of the crew of the Marlin Luanda, who it said had managed to control the fire in “exceptionally difficult circumstances”. It also thanked the US, French and Indian navies for their “essential assistance”.
Arsenio Dominguez, secretary-general of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization, had earlier written on social media platform X: “I strongly condemn the attack on Marlin Luanda tanker which has put seafarers’ lives at risk and raises the spectre of environmental damage.”
The missile that struck the tanker was the first to hit a commercial vessel since the US and UK launched a second set of strikes against the militants on Monday. The Houthis have played havoc with global trade by targeting the critical route to and from the Suez Canal.
Earlier on Friday, the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile at the USS Carney, a US navy vessel in the Gulf of Aden. US Central Command said the Carney had successfully shot the missile down.
On Saturday, American forces launched a strike against a Houthi anti-ship missile that was preparing to fire, according to US Central Command.
Yahya Saree, the Houthis’ spokesman, said the group had targeted the Marlin Luanda, which it described as a “British oil ship”. While the vessel was operating on behalf of Singapore-based Trafigura, its registered owner is Oceonix Services, a company based in the City of London.
Trafigura said the vessel was carrying “Russian origin” Naphtha, an oil product, which it said had been purchased below the price cap on the country’s oil set by international sanctions.
The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza after Israel declared war on Hamas, the militant group that attacked Israel on October 7.
The Yemeni rebels originally said they were only targeting vessels linked to Israel, although many of those affected had no apparent link to the Jewish state.
The Houthis have since extended their target list to include ships linked to the US and UK. Many shipping industry executives had assumed, based on a Houthi promise not to attack Russian and Chinese ships, that vessels carrying cargo heading to or from Russia or China would enjoy some degree of protection.
Arrivals of container ships in the area in recent weeks have been 90 per cent down on levels in early November, according to Clarksons, a shipping services group.
Most are instead taking a longer route round the Cape of Good Hope, which has significantly increased journey times and costs.
Trafigura on Saturday said it currently had no further vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden.
It added: “We continue to assess carefully the risks involved in any voyage, including in respect of security and safety of the crew, together with shipowners and customers.”
On Wednesday, the Houthis fired at least three missiles towards two US-flagged container ships, the Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake, as they were heading through the Bab-el-Mandeb, at the mouth of the Red Sea.
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