Commercial Ship on Fire After Houthi Missile Attack, Crewmember Injured

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Thursday that a Palau-flagged, Ukrainian-owned, Polish-operated bulk carrier called MV Verbena was sailing through the Gulf of Aden when it was hit by two anti-ship missiles launched by the Iran-backed Houthi terrorists of Yemen.

A fire broke out on the ship after the missile strikes and one of its crewmembers was severely injured.

CENTCOM said aircraft from the USS Philippine Sea, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser, “medically evacuated the injured mariner to a partner force ship nearby for medical attention.”

“This continued reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” CENTCOM said. “The Houthis claim to be acting on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza and yet they are targeting and threatening the lives of third country nationals who have nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza.”

“The ongoing threat to the ability to safely transit the region caused by the Houthis makes it harder to deliver critical assistance to the people of Yemen as well as to Gaza,” the statement noted.

The Verbena was reportedly carrying a load of timber from Malaysia to Italy when it was attacked. The Houthis ostensibly limit their attacks to American and Israeli vessels, and those bound for Israel, but their terror targeting profiles are often wrong. They have even been known to attack ships bound for their patrons in Iran.

The Houthis took responsibility for attacking the Verbena on Thursday, along with two other ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden over the previous 24 hours.

One of the other targets was a Greek-owned, Liberia-flagged coal carrier called the Tutor, which was struck by Houthi missiles and surface drones on Wednesday as it sailed about 66 miles southwest of Yemen’s port city Hodeidah.

The Tutor was severely damaged in the attack. U.K. Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said on Friday that the ship was adrift and taking on water. One of its 22 crew members is reportedly missing, while the others will be rescued by U.S. and French military forces and brought to the Philippines, according to Philippine Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Hans Cacdac.

Cacdac said the missing crew member could be trapped in the Tutor’s engine room, which was damaged by the Houthi attack.

“Right now, we are still in the process of trying to ascertain, or trying to account for, the particular seafarer in that ship. We are praying we could find him,” he said.

Most of the Tutor’s crew are Filipinos. Cacdac said they are “safe and sound,” with adequate provisions, while plans are made for their rescue and return home.

The Biden administration announced a coalition operation called “Prosperity Guardian” in February to protect Red Sea commerce and reassure nervous shipping companies. The Houthis continued their attacks with only brief pauses. If anything, given the events of the past week, they seem to be growing more proficient at inflicting serious damage on commercial vessels.

The attack on the Tutor looks like the first successful Houthi deployment of an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) or drone boat, a technology, a technology they have been struggling to perfect since the beginning of the year. While the Houthis spend vast sums of money on Iranian weapons and drone research, the people of Yemen are heavily reliant upon international humanitarian assistance for food and medicine, including aid from the United States.

CENTCOM said on Wednesday that U.S. forces destroyed three anti-ship cruise missile launchers and one uncrewed aerial system in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

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