Houthis Deploy New Weapons To Secure First Direct Hit In Indian Ocean

Houthis Deploy New Weapons To Secure First Direct Hit In Indian Ocean - Merchant Navy Info - News

The Houthis have carried out their first successful attack in the Indian Ocean after pledging in mid-March to extend missile attacks to the area to include ships diverting around the Cape of Good Hope.

The Joint Maritime Information Center operates under the Combined Maritime Forces. It says an unmanned aerial vehicle attack on a merchant vessel was reported on the night of April 26. The ship was transiting the Indian Ocean approximately 300-400 nautical miles southeast of the Horn of Africa.

The vessel sustained minor damage, and all crew members are safe.

JMIC reports debris of what appears to be a UAV on board the vessel.

The agency says the ship was likely targeted due to perceived Israeli affiliation.

Yemeni Armed Forces initially claimed to have targeted containership MSC Orion (IMO: 9857157). It was done with several drones in a statement on April 29. However, naval sources did not confirm the attack until Tuesday, and Mediterranean Shipping Company, the vessel’s operator, has not yet commented.

Houthi Attack on MSC Orion Marks Escalation

According to vessel-tracking data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence, MSC Orion was in the area of the attack during the incident reported on April 26.

The ship stopped transmitting Automatic Identification System data at 0555 hrs on April 27, local time. It reappeared late Tuesday evening when it arrived at the Colombo anchorage.

The Houthis pledged in mid-March to extend missile attacks to include ships in the Indian Ocean diverting around the Cape of Good Hope.

On April 24, the Houthis claimed to have targeted MSC Veracruz (IMO: 9287924). Which was travelling via the Cape of Good Hope to Mina Khalifa/Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Other sources did not corroborate this. 

The MSC Orion is the first time a regional administration has confirmed an attack against a civilian ship this far away from Yemen territory.

“This incident means that the threat has changed, particularly for Israeli ships or those linked to the UK or US that are operating within the assessed weapons range within the Indian Ocean,” said EOS Risk Group head of advisory Martin Kelly.

Given the Houthis’ track record, whereby about 67% of the ships they have targeted are associated with the US, UK or Israel. Any expansion of the scope of attacks is a cause for concern.

The attack on MSC Orion is a significant escalation, say analysts.

“The number of requirements for naval forces has grown immensely. Attention shifted away from the Red Sea during the Houthis’ quiet period. Also, naval presence in the region decreased. Now the Houthis have thrown another spanner in the works by attacking further afield,” said Ian Ralby, maritime and international affairs expert and founder and chief executive of IR Consilium.

Houthis Pose New Challenges in the Indian Ocean

Iran is known to be supplying the Houthis with weaponry and equipment.

“The biggest technical challenge is targeting. Since both systems are principally designed to fly to pre-programmed GPS coordinates,” explained James Trigg. He is a senior research analyst at Janes. Also, he stated:

“So, the question becomes how are Ansar Allah [the Houthi movement] updating the target coordinates. In order to ensure these drones hit their targets. Especially if firing at a vessel so far beyond the reach of Ansar Allah naval intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance elements?” said Trigg.

The office of the spokesperson for the Yemeni Armed Forces aligned with Ansar Allah. He released and circulated a video on Tuesday. The video purportedly shows the attack on the Cyclades (IMO: 9799616). According to Janes’ analysts, this raises the possibility that a Shehab drone may have been used in the attack against MSC Orion. 

Bulk carrier Cyclades was targeted multiple times with missiles and drones over seven hours on April 29, according to the JMIC. 

Ansar Allah has previously demonstrated its possession of Samad and modified Shehab drones in military parades. The video of the attack is the first proof of their use to attack shipping, says Trigg.

Based on the Samad family of drones, the Shehab drone can reach ranges of 500 km (270 nm) to 1,600 km (864 nm).

Information has yet to be published from where the drone was launched.

Vessels started rerouting en masse around the Cape of Good Hope in mid-December. Just after the Houthis increased the frequency of attacks, and these strikes became increasingly indiscriminate.

Some 676 cargo-carrying vessels passed around the Cape of Good Hope last week, up 72% on normal volumes.

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