Thursday 15 February 2024

Commercial ships in Red Sea get creative to avoid being targeted by Houthi rebels, announcing things like, “All Crew Muslims”

 Since November 2023, Iran-linked Houthi rebels have conducted dozens of missile and drone attacks on ships traveling in the Red Sea commercial waterway, a key trade route.

These attacks upended global shipping and pushed up transport costs as ships faced detours and extra fees for insurance and security. The militant group's self-professed aim is to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop the assault on Gaza that began after the October 7 Hamas attack.

Now, commercial vessels are trying to find a way to avoid being targeted by the Houthis. They have been broadcasting that they're not connected with Israel or the United States.

According to research firm TankerTracker, livestock carrier Cattle Force appealed to the Houthis as co-religionists in an apparent bid to ensure safe passage. On Sunday, Feb. 11, as it approached the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen's coast, it changed its destination signal from an Iraqi port to "All Crew Muslims."

"This is a first," TankerTracker wrote on X. Once safely through the strait on Monday morning, Feb. 12, it switched back to Iraq's Umm Qasr, according to tracking data analyzed by Bloomberg. "The change was an apparent message to the Houthis, who say they're targeting ships linked to Israel and its allies to pressure them over the war in Gaza," the news outlet reported.

Togo-flagged Cattle Force was sanctioned by the U.S. due to its owner, UAE-based Swedish Management, which the U.S. alleged was involved in Iran's oil and petrochemical exports.

Meanwhile, commercial ships in the Red Sea are getting more creative in their efforts to avoid attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militants. In recent weeks, some ships have broadcasted "No Link To Israel," "No Relation To Israel" and "Nothing With Israel."  

Houthis strike Iran-bound grain ship

Houthi forces recently carried out another attack. According to the U.S. military, the rebel group targeted an Iran-bound grain cargo ship, raising questions about the group's targeting goals. The U.S. central command (Centcom) said in a statement: "On February 12 from 3.30 to 3.45 a.m. Yemen time, Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired two missiles from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Bab al-Mandeb."

Both missiles were said to have been launched toward MV Star Iris, a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel transiting the Red Sea carrying corn from Brazil. "The ship reports being seaworthy with minor damage and no injuries to the crew," Centcom added, saying that the MV Star Iris' destination was Bandar Iman Khomeini in Iran. Reportedly, the Yemeni militants sought to describe the said vessel as "American" without offering evidence. Iran provides financial backing to the Houthis.

Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi said in a televised speech last week that Israeli ships had stopped entering the Red Sea but the U.S. navy has estimated that about 100 ships are still operating in the waterway, some of which the Houthis may see as targets.

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Steven Fagin last week warned that the U.S. classification of the Houthis as a specially designated global terrorist group would come into force on February 16 if the attacks did not stop.

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