Tanker crew struggles to contain fire after Houthi missile attack

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Crew members were battling to control a fire on the Marlin Luanda on Saturday, 18 hours after the tanker was hit by a Houthi missile in the Gulf of Aden.

The fire on the ship was the most damaging of more than 30 Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the past three months. The vessel was carrying a Russian-produced refined petroleum product on behalf of commodities trader Trafigura.

Trafigura said Saturday that “no injuries or casualties” had been reported on the 250-meter-long vessel.

But it adds: “The crew is continuing efforts to control the fire in one of the ship’s cargo tanks with the support of naval vessels. The safety of the crew remains our top priority.”

Previous Houthi attacks, which mainly targeted container ships or bulk cargo ships, caused minimal damage and any fires were quickly extinguished. This attack will likely push more shipowners to avoid the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

Arsenio Dominguez, secretary general of the United Nations International Maritime Organization, wrote on the social platform

The missile that hit the tanker was the first to hit a commercial vessel since the United States and the United Kingdom launched a second series of attacks on the militants on Monday. The Houthis have devastated global trade by targeting the critical route to and from the Suez Canal.

Last Friday, the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile at the USS Carney, a US Navy ship in the Gulf of Aden. US Central Command said the Carney had successfully shot down the missile.

On Saturday, American forces launched an attack on a Houthi anti-ship missile that it was preparing to fire, according to US Central Command.

Yahya Saree, a Houthi spokesman, said the group had targeted the Marlin Luanda, which he described as a “British oil ship”. While the vessel operated on behalf of Singapore-based Trafigura, its registered owner is Oceonix Services, a company based in the City of London.

Trafigura said the vessel was carrying naphtha of “Russian origin”, a petroleum product, which was allegedly purchased below the country’s maximum oil price set by international sanctions.

The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza after Israel declared war on Hamas, the militant group that attacked Israel on October 7.

Yemeni rebels initially said they were targeting only ships linked to Israel, although many of those targeted had no apparent connection to the Jewish state.

The Houthis have since expanded their target list to include US- and UK-linked ships. Many shipping industry executives had assumed, based on the Houthis’ promise not to attack Russian and Chinese ships, that ships carrying goods to or from Russia or China would enjoy some degree of protection.

Container ship arrivals in the area have fallen by 90% in recent weeks compared to early November levels, according to Clarksons, a shipping services group.

Most instead choose a longer route around the Cape of Good Hope, which has significantly increased travel times and costs.

On Wednesday, the Houthis fired at least three missiles at two American-flagged container ships, the Maersk Detroit and the Maersk Chesapeake, as they passed through the Bab-el-Mandeb at the mouth of the Red Sea.

The ships, part of a fleet of 20 U.S.-flagged vessels carrying almost exclusively U.S. government cargo, were accompanied by the USS Gravely. The US Navy ship shot down two missiles, while another fell into the sea.

Maersk, the world’s second-largest container shipping company, said it would no longer send its U.S.-flagged fleet through the area. The Copenhagen-based company’s other ships have been traveling through the Cape of Good Hope since December.

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