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Indian-flagged oil tanker hit by Houthis’ attack drone in Red Sea: US military

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An Indian-flagged crude oil tanker in the Red Sea reported that it was hit by an attack drone fired by Houthi militants, sending out a distress call to a US warship in the area, the US military said on Saturday. The Gabon-owned tanker MV Saibaba reported no injuries from the strike, Central Command said in a social media post.

Picture for representational purpose only.(AFP)
Picture for representational purpose only.(AFP)

The US Central Command also said a US Navy destroyer patrolling in the Red Sea knocked down four attack drones before they could strike the warship.

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The USS Laboon “shot down four unmanned aerial drones originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen that were inbound” toward the American vessel, Centcom said in a post on X (formerly Twitter), adding there were “no injuries or damage”.

The attack came amid a flurry of new drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on the vital Red Sea shipping lane since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, with the group claiming to act in solidarity with Gaza.

Also Read: US Pentagon says Iranian drone ‘attack’ hit tanker ship off Gujarat coast

“On December 23 two Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles were fired into international shipping lanes in the Southern Red Sea from Houthi controlled areas of Yemen. No ships reported being impacted by the ballistic missiles. Between 3 and 8 p.m. (Sanaa time), the USS LABOON (DDG 58) was patrolling in the Southern Red Sea as part of Operation PROSPERITY GUARDIAN (OPG) and shot down four unmanned aerial drones originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen that were inbound to the USS LABOON. There were no injuries or damage in this incident,” Central Command said in the statement.

“At approximately 8 p.m. (Sanaa time), U.S. Naval Forces Central Command received reports from two ships in the Southern Red Sea that they were under attack. The M/V BLAAMANEN, a Norwegian-flagged, owned, and operated chemical/oil tanker, reported a near miss of a Houthi one-way attack drone with no injuries or damage reported,” it added.

“A second vessel, the M/V SAIBABA, a Gabon-owned, Indian-flagged crude oil tanker, reported that it was hit by a one-way attack drone with no injuries reported. The USS LABOON (DDG 58) responded to the distress calls from these attacks. These attacks represent the 14th and 15th attacks on commercial shipping by Houthi militants since Oct. 17,” the statement said.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations agency earlier reported that an uncrewed aerial system had exploded near a vessel in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, 45 nautical miles southwest of Saleef, Yemen, news agency Reuters reported.

The United States launched Operation Prosperity Guardian three days ago, saying more than a dozen countries had agreed to participate in an effort that will involve joint patrols in Red Sea waters near Yemen.

The Sanaa-based group has obstructed their passage through the strait.

The developments come hours after the Pentagon said a chemical tanker struck Saturday off the coast of India was targeted “by a one-way attack drone fired from Iran”.

The attack took place around 10am local time and caused no casualties aboard the Japanese-owned vessel, it said, adding that a fire was extinguished.

The US military “remains in communication with the vessel as it continues toward a destination in India,” it added.

The Pentagon statement said the Chem Pluto ship flew under a Liberian flag and was operated by a Dutch entity.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strike which came amid a flurry of drone and missile attacks by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

The Indian Navy said it had responded to a request for assistance.

Indian Navy, coast guard swing into action

The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard have deployed assets to aid the merchant ship MV Chem Pluto. The vessel was carrying chemicals from Saudi Arabia’s Jubail port to Mangalore, officials said. It was struck 217 nautical miles from Porbandar around 11.30am, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO).

In a late night statement, the Indian Coast Guard said the vessel has started making way towards Mumbai post undertaking damage assessment and repairs on its power generation systems.

“The Coast Guard Dornier aircraft has sanitised the area and established communication with Chem Pluto. The vessel has started making way towards Mumbai post undertaking damage assessment and repairs on its power generation systems,” it said.

“The vessel is likely to enter Mumbai and sought escort assistance due to steering issues. Indian Coast Guard Ship Vikram will be escorting the ship during its passage. The Indian Coast Guard Operations Centre is monitoring the situation closely,” it said.

The UKMTO cited the crew of 21 as having reported that all on board were safe and the attack to have come from an uncrewed aerial system (UAS), which led to an explosion and a fire that disabled its power supply.

“The Indian Coast Guard Maritime Coordination Centre (MRCC) established real time communication with the vessel’s agent and ascertained nil loss of life and assured all assistance. It was also learnt that the vessel fire has been doused by the crew,” said the coast guard statement.

(With inputs from Rahul Singh in New Delhi and Maulik Pathak in Ahmedabad)

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