Oil tanker on fire in Gulf of Aden after Houthi missile attack as UK warns it 'reserves right to respond'

27 January 2024, 09:12

Yemen's Houthi weaponised followers ride vehicles
Yemen's Houthi weaponised followers ride vehicles. Picture: Getty

By Jenny Medlicott

Efforts are 'continuing' to control a fire aboard an oil tanker near Yemen after Houthi rebels struck it with a missile.

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The Yemini-based group said it had targeted the Marlin Luanda on Friday evening.

The tanker was hit with an anti-ship ballistic missile and naval ships responded to its distress signal, the US military said.

Operator Trafigura said on Saturday morning: “The crew is continuing efforts to control the fire in one of the ship's cargo tanks with support from military vessels.

"The safety of the crew remains our utmost priority."

The operator said no injuries or casualties have been reported within the crew of the Marlin Luanda.

The UK government has since reiterated that Britain and its allies “reserve the right to respond appropriately” after the strike.

A government spokesperson said: “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.”

Multinational firm Trafigura, which has offices in in London, said the safety of crew on the Marlin Luanda, a vessel operated on its behalf, was its "foremost priority" on Friday evening.

Military ships in the region made their way to the oil tanker to provide assistance, the firm added.

UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported an incident 60 nautical miles south-east of Aden on Friday.

It comes after an earlier incident in which two missiles were reported to have exploded in the water and "vessel and crew are safe and no damage reported".

The Yemeni armed forces claimed it had targeted Marlin Luanda, which it described as a British oil tanker, in the Gulf of Aden.

The group said it was targeted in response to "American-British aggression against our country".

Read More: US and UK impose sanctions on four Houthi leaders after Red Sea attacks

Read More: UK and US-led group of allies release fresh statement after strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen

Shipping data suggests the vessel sails under the flag of the Marshall Islands.

UKMTO said authorities had been informed and were responding to the latest strike, warning other vessels to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity.

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 air strikes 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 air strikes, carried out at the start of the week, appears to have done little to deter Houthi action.

A Trafigura spokesperson said in a statement: "Earlier on 26th January, the Marlin Luanda, a petroleum products tanker vessel operated on behalf of Trafigura, was struck by a missile as it transited the Red Sea.

"Firefighting equipment on board is being deployed to suppress and control the fire caused in one cargo tank on the starboard side. The safety of the crew is our foremost priority.

"We remain in contact with the vessel and are monitoring the situation carefully. Military ships in the region are underway to provide assistance."

Earlier on Friday, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: "We continue to call on (the Houthis) to step back from such action. We're clear that this is illegal and unacceptable."

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron is currently finishing a trip to the Middle East in a diplomatic bid to reduce tensions as the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues.

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