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Tanker attacked off Hodeidah

The Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen’s civil war says an oil tanker has been attacked by Houthi rebels.

A statement said the Saudi tanker was in international waters when it came under fire at around 1330 local time (1030 GMT) on April 3. It continued: “As a result of that attack, the tanker was subjected to a slight but ineffective hit and it resumed its naval course northwards, escorted by a coalition warship.” The incident happened west of Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah. The statement did not name the tanker neither did it give details of the nature of the attack. A European Union naval force that operates in the region said it understood that the tanker’s crew were safe and unharmed. The media department of the Houthi-run Yemeni military said only that its naval forces had “targeted a coalition battleship”.

Assessment and Analysis

Houthi forces, backed by Iran, control much of Yemen’s Red Sea coast and the civil war has frequently threatened to spill into the shipping lanes of the southern Red Sea. Houthi rebels warned as recently as January 2018 that they might target tanker traffic. Hodeidah, close to where the latest attack occurred, has been in Houthi hands throughout the four-year conflict and is a crucial entry point for fuel and food. The Saudis, however, have severely limited shipping traffic to the port.

In the days immediately prior to the tanker attack there were signs that the Yemen conflict was escalating. Houthi forces launched missile strikes on Saudi Arabia and the Saudis were accused of killing civilians in air strikes on Hodeidah. All ships sailing through the High Risk Area (HRA) that includes parts of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, should register their plans with the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSC-HOA).

They should also use the Maritime Security Transit Corridor (MSTC) set up by US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) in the Western Indian Ocean and Red Sea regions.