The UK government has said Britain and its allies “reserve the right to respond appropriately” after an oil tanker was struck and set alight off the coast of Yemen. The blaze on the British-linked oil tanker was put out after firefighting efforts continued through the night.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed their naval forces had carried out an operation targeting what they described as the “British oil tanker Marlin Luanda” in the Gulf of Aden. Shipping data suggests the vessel sails under the flag of the Marshall Islands.
They used “appropriate naval missiles, the strike was direct”, the Houthi military spokesperson, Yahya Sarea, said in a statement.
The US military has also confirmed the attack, posting a statement on X saying: “Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists fired one anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and struck the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker.”
The statement adds that the ship issued a distress call and reported damage, but no injuries had been reported so far, adding that “other coalition ships have responded and are rendering assistance”.
The commodities group Trafigura said the vessel was operated on its behalf.
The company, which has offices in Britain, said a fire in the ship’s cargo tank had been extinguished with the help of Indian, US and French Navy vessels and that all crew were safe.
A Trafigura spokesperson said: “The vessel is now sailing towards a safe harbour. The crew continues to monitor the vessel and cargo closely.
“We would like to recognise the exceptional dedication and bravery of the ship’s master and crew who managed to control the fire in highly difficult circumstances, as well as the essential assistance provided by Indian, US and French navy vessels to achieve this outcome.”
A UK government spokesperson said: “We are aware of reports that the M/V Marlin Luanda, a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, has sustained damage from attack in the Gulf of Aden. Current reports suggest no casualties and nearby coalition vessels are on the scene.
“We have been clear that any attacks on commercial shipping are completely unacceptable and that the UK and our allies reserve the right to respond appropriately.”
The tanker was carrying Russian naphtha bought below the price cap in line with G7 sanctions, a Trafigura spokesperson said.
It comes after another incident in the region on Friday in which two missiles were reported to have exploded in the water. Both vessel and crew were reported safe and with no damage.
The Yemeni forces claimed on Friday they had targeted a “British oil” vessel after “American-British aggression against our country”.
Reuters reported that the vessel Free Spirit, chartered by Vitol to carry crude oil, U-turned before reaching the Gulf of Aden shortly after the attack on the Marlin Luanda, according to data from LSEG.
The Houthis have repeatedly launched attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, endangering shipping on a key route for global trade.
Alongside numerous airstrikes on key Houthi targets, the UK and US are also targeting key figures in the Iran-backed militant group with sanctions.
A second series of UK and US airstrikes, carried out at the start of the week, appears to have done little to deter Houthi action.
On Saturday, UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported that a vessel 780 nautical miles east of Hafun, Somalia, was also approached by a small craft with four people.
Automatic rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade were spotted, but the boat retreated after the onboard security team fired warning shots as it approached to within 300 metres, it said.
About eight hours after the oil tanker was hit, the US military said it had destroyed a Houthi anti-ship missile that was aimed into the Red Sea and ready to launch. The missile “presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region”, US central command said in a statement.
Earlier on Friday, a spokesperson for Rishi Sunak said: “We continue to call on [the Houthis] to step back from such action. We’re clear that this is illegal and unacceptable.”
The foreign secretary, David Cameron, is finishing a trip to the Middle East, in a diplomatic attempt to reduce tensions as the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues.
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