Armed Encounter in Bab al-Mandab Strait: Gunmen in Speedboat Target Two Vessels

Armed Encounter in Bab al-Mandab Strait: Gunmen in Speedboat Target Two Vessels

Bab al-Mandab Strait

A recent incident off the coast of Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah has raised significant concerns about maritime security in the region. According to an advisory note from British maritime security company Ambrey, a speedboat with armed individuals approached two vessels transiting in the area. This information was corroborated by Britain’s Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency, which reported an incident near the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a critical maritime chokepoint.

Yemen Conflict’s Maritime Dimension

The ongoing conflict in Yemen, particularly involving the Iran-aligned Houthis, has extended into a new dimension with these maritime incidents. The Houthis, operating from their stronghold in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, have been actively targeting vessels they perceive to be linked to Israeli interests. This includes ships allegedly owned by Israeli businesses or those en route to Israeli ports. The Houthis’ tactics have been focused on disrupting maritime traffic through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a strategic route at the southern end of the Red Sea.

Chemical Tanker Under Fire

Ambrey’s report highlighted a concerning encounter involving a Marshall Islands-flagged chemical tanker. Approximately 55 nautical miles off Hodeidah, the tanker experienced an “exchange of fire” with a speedboat. The armed speedboat reportedly initiated gunfire when within 300 meters of the tanker. During this tense encounter, the tanker received communication from an entity claiming to be the Yemeni Navy, directing it to change its course. However, a coalition warship, likely part of the Coalition Task Force (CTF) Sentinel, advised the tanker to maintain its course.

Role of CTF Sentinel and IMSC

The incident underscores the strategic role of CTF Sentinel, the operational arm of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC). Established in July 2019 in response to rising threats to maritime navigation and trade flow, IMSC and its operational entities like CTF Sentinel play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of maritime routes in these troubled waters.

Second Incident Involving Malta-flagged Carrier

Ambrey’s report also documented a second, near-simultaneous incident involving a Malta-flagged bulk carrier. This vessel, located 52 nautical miles off Hodeidah’s shores, was approached by the same or a similar speedboat. Ambrey has committed to providing updates on this evolving situation.

Additional Incident Reported by UKMTO

Compounding the maritime security concerns, UKMTO reported another separate incident in the Arabian Sea, approximately 90 nautical miles off the coast of Duqm, Oman. While details remain sparse, UKMTO has issued a cautionary advisory for ships transiting the area, urging vigilance and the reporting of any suspicious activities.

Related: Houthi Missile Hits Tanker, Sparks Fire: US Military

A Complex Maritime Security Challenge

These incidents off the Yemeni coast and in the Arabian Sea highlight a complex and multifaceted maritime security challenge. They underscore the need for heightened vigilance and coordinated international response to protect vital maritime routes against emerging threats. The situation not only affects regional stability but also has broader implications for global trade and security, underscoring the importance of maintaining safe and secure international waterways.

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