March 10, 2024

Cargo ship attacked by Houthis sinks off Yemen coast

A cargo ship has sunk two weeks after being attacked by Houthis in the Gulf of Aden.

Yemen’s government said the Rubymar was drifting and taking on water for days before it sank. 

It is the first ship to have been sunk by the Iran-backed rebels in Yemen since they began targeting vessels in the Red Sea.

The ship was reportedly carrying fertilisers and experts say the sinking risks “an environmental catastrophe”.

The Rubymar was in the Gulf of Aden near the Bab al-Mandab Strait when it was hit by two missiles fired by Yemen-based Houthi rebels. 

Ten days ago, the British government said that the vessel had been taking in water and all its 24 crew had been rescued.

The BBC obtained an image of the ship on 21 February, which showed it submerged at the stern, but still afloat. 

The vessel’s owners said at the time that it was being towed to nearby Djibouti but could yet sink. It said it was unable to confirm it had given there was no one aboard.

The 172m-long Rubymar was flagged in Belize and operated by a Lebanese firm. 

Its registered owner is Golden Adventure Shipping, which has an address in the British port of Southampton.

The ship was believed to have been carrying a cargo of ammonium nitrate fertiliser.

The prime minister of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, called the ship’s sinking “an unprecedented environmental disaster”. 

Greenpeace said a spill of ammonium nitrate could have “significant impacts on marine ecosystems”, which in the southern Red Sea feature coral reefs, coastal mangroves and diverse marine life.

The Marine Science department at the University of Jordan said that the release of large amounts of fertiliser into the sea could stimulate excessive growth of algae, using up so much oxygen that regular marine life would not survive.

The head of the department, Ali Al-Sawalmih, said that an urgent plan was needed “to establish a clean-up strategy”.

In a post on X, a Houthi leader, Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, said that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the UK government “had a chance to recover the Rubymar by allowing aid trucks into Gaza.”

Since November, the Houthi rebels have been carrying out attacks on ships linked to Israel in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, saying their actions are in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. 

The US and the UK have carried out a series of attacks on Houthi targets inside Yemen in response.

On Saturday, the UK Maritime Trade body, UKMTO, said it had received a report of a ship being attacked west of Yemen’s port of Mokha. 

The UKMTO said: “The crew took the vessel to anchor and were evacuated by military authorities”.

Separately, the UKMTO reported a ship sinking, close to where the Rubymar was last seen. 

The US Central Command said it carried out “a self-defence strike” against a Houthi surface-to-air missile that was about to be launched from Yemen. 

The command said the missile had presented an imminent threat to US aircraft.

On the same day, Italy’s defence ministry said that one of its naval ships had also shot down a drone flying towards it in the Red Sea.

The rebels’ attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea have prompted many shipping companies to stop using the waterway, through which about 12% of global seaborne trade passes.

Despite more than a month of air strikes against Houthi targets by the US-led naval coalition, the rebels are still carrying out significant attacks. 

They say they will continue to target vessels in the Red Sea area until Israel stops its military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

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