Houthi ballistic missile fired at container ship near Bab el Mandeb strait

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(WASHINGTON)– The U.S. military accused the Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen of having fired a ballistic missile at a container ship in the Red Sea Thursday in the latest provocation that is raising tensions in the region.

“Midday Dec. 14 (Sanaa time), a ballistic missile was fired from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen toward the international shipping lane north of the Bab-el-Mandeb,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

The Bab-el-Mandeb strait is the narrow body of water separating Yemen from the northeast coast of Africa that leads into the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

“There were no injuries or damage,” the statement continued. “Following the missile launch, the [container ship] M/V Maersk Gibraltar was hailed by the Houthis, who threatened further missile attacks.”

Houthi officials had earlier claimed that one of their drones had struck the ship that CENTCOM identified as a Hong Kong-flagged vessel.

The incident is the latest escalation from Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen, who have launched missiles and drones targeting ships sailing in the region and have seized a merchant vessel in a show of support for Hamas in the war with Israel.

Thursday’s incident was the third time since Sunday that the Houthis have fired missiles at commercial vessels in the southern Red Sea, raising concerns about the security of commercial shipping in the vital waterway.

There was no U.S. Navy response to Thursday’s incident involving the Maersk Gibraltar.

On Tuesday, the American destroyer USS Mason assisted a Norwegian chemical tanker in the southern Red Sea and shot down a Houthi drone that was headed in its direction.

In recent weeks, U.S. Navy ships have shot down Houthi missiles and drones that have either been aimed at Israel or commercial vessels or have flown in the direction of American warships.

The United States is in discussions with partner nations to establish a multinational naval task force to provide security for commercial shipping near Yemen.

On Thursday, the Pentagon’s top spokesman described that effort as building on the existing Task Force 153, comprised of 39 nations focusing on international maritime security and capacity-building efforts in the Red Sea, Bab el Mandeb and the Gulf of Aden.

“We’re working through that process right now, in terms of which countries will be participating in Task Force 153 and, specifically, what capabilities and types of support they will provide,” Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.

“We’ll have more information on that in the near future,” Ryder said.

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