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US Forces Counter Houthi Aggression in the Red Sea, Maersk Suspends Operations

Published December 31, 2023
7 months ago

In a decisive action to counter the rising threat from Yemen's Houthi rebels, US forces have successfully neutralized an imminent threat to global maritime commerce in the Red Sea. On Sunday morning, following a distress signal from the Singapore-flagged container ship, Maersk Hangzhou, the US military executed a defensive operation against what it has identified as "Iranian-backed Houthi small boats."

The attack by the Houthi rebels is part of a pattern of maritime aggression that has seen an uptick in recent weeks, coinciding with the ongoing conflict in Gaza. The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) reported that helicopters launched from two US warships, the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely, engaged and sank three of the boats menacing the Maersk vessel, with several crew members of the attack boats presumed killed. A fourth Houthi vessel eluded capture.

Global shipping leader Maersk has responded to the threat by halting all operations in the Red Sea for a 48-hour period, signalling the seriousness of the security situation in one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes. The move emphasizes the impact of the Houthi rebels' actions on international shipping lines, with companies forced to make difficult decisions to ensure the safety of their vessels and crew.

The Houthi group has not given any official statement regarding the incident. Nevertheless, their aggressive stance towards vessels they associate with Israel, and the broader dispute in Gaza, has drawn significant international concern. The Houthis have vowed to press on with their attacks as long as Israel's military activities in Gaza continue, posing an ongoing risk to maritime operations in the region.

These acts of aggression come against a backdrop of escalating hostilities in the Middle East, notably the heavy casualties suffered in Gaza due to Israeli military actions. This situation has fueled the intensity and frequency of Houthi attacks, not just at sea but also against US interests in the region.

The attacks persist despite the establishment of a global naval task force by the US on December 19 aimed at ensuring the safety of shipping lanes in these contentious waters. The presence of the US-led coalition initially seemed encouraging but has yet to dissuade Houthi rebels from pursuing their aggressive endeavors.

US Vice Admiral Brad Cooper has warned that the use of antiship ballistic missiles by the Houthis is becoming an increasingly dangerous element in the conflict, highlighting a determined adversary. This technological escalation by the Houthis underscores their capability and intent to disrupt maritime commerce, an issue that the international community and the coalition forces must continue to address.

Additionally, there is growing anxiety over the potential for these conflicts to disrupt essential underwater communication channels, with Yemen’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressing its commitment to defending these networks. The ministry has clarified that while Israeli ships are barred, licensed international vessels are permitted to execute maritime works, provided they obtain the necessary permissions.

In conclusion, the continuous attacks on shipping routes by Houthi rebels represent a significant threat to the global supply chain and international commerce. The US military's active defense measures and Maersk's temporary cessation of Red Sea operations send a clear message of the grave risks in this important maritime corridor. It remains to be seen whether the US-led task force can provide the necessary stability and security for commercial vessels plying these troubled waters.

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