As Red Sea tensions rise, the US sank three Houthi boats on Sunday foiling a ship hijacking attempt, but Tehran vowed continued support for its militant proxies.
Two distress signals were sent out by the MAERSK Hangzhou within 24 hours, the first signalling a hit by a missile, and the second, indicating a hijacking attempt.
As the attack was unfolding, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran said that the Islamic Republic should continue its support for the “Resistance Front”, referring to the regime’s proxy.
US Centcom said the attack marked the 23rd instance of aggression against international shipping since November 19.
With well over 100 attacks on US facilities in the Middle East since the Gaza war broke out on October 7, sparked by Hamas’s invasion of Israel, it is a rare action from the US which until now, has tried to avoid military clashes.
Following the Israeli military operation in Gaza, Iran’s Yemeni proxy announced it would be joining the war on Israel, targeting shipping in the Red Sea and surrounding area.
Attempting to force Israel to agree to a full ceasefire, missiles and drones have been targeting Israeli soil as well as international shipping and US interests. Following the US support of Israel’s right to defend itself in the wake of the October 7 attacks, which saw 1,200 mostly civilians murdered and 240 or more taken hostage, the US has come under further attacks in Iraq and Syria.
The escalation in the maritime route which accounts for around 12 percent of global trade and oil, connecting Asia to Europe, has led the US to form a more than 20-member international coalition in the face of the aggression, Operation Prosperity Guardian. Several shipping companies have either ceased activity or take longer routes, causing major delays and costs to journeys.
Denmark, the owner/operator of the latest targeted vessel, is the newest member of the coalition, though due to the sensitivity of the region, not all countries have openly stated membership.
Following the initial strike on the Singapore-flagged container ship which claimed it had been hit by a missile, the US Navy shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles. No injuries were reported and the ship was still seaworthy.
But later, in the early hours of Sunday morning, a second distress call revealed four Houthi small boats attempting to hijack the ship, as they fired with small arms at the ship, getting to within 20 meters and attempting to board.
“A contract embarked security team on the MAERSK Hangzhou returned fire. US helicopters from the USS EISENHOWER (CVN 69) and GRAVELY (DDG 107) responded to the distress call and in the process of issuing verbal calls to the small boats, the small boats fired upon the US helicopters with crew served weapons and small arms,” the statement said.
“The US Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defence, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews. The fourth boat fled the area. There was no damage to US personnel or equipment.”
Holding Iran accountable, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said on Sunday that he had told Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a call that Iran should help stop the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.
“I made clear that Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks, given their long-standing support to the Houthis,” Cameron said in a X, adding that the attacks “threaten innocent lives and the global economy”.
Iran expert Jason Brodsky, said the latest US action was “a step in the right direction” in terms of deterrence but said “without more decisive action including against the IRGC, it won’t alter the fundamentals of the deterrence deficit in the Red Sea”.