New Houthi attack risks ‘environmental disaster,’ US says

The attacked ship's cargo of fertilizer could spill into the Red Sea, U.S. defense officials warned.

New Houthi attack risks ‘environmental disaster,’ US says

A cargo ship sailing through the tense waters of the Red Sea was hit in an overnight strike by Yemen-based Houthi militants, defense officials in Washington said, in what could be the most serious incident since the group began harassing commercial shipping last year.

According to U.S. Central Command, the Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, U.K.-owned bulk carrier, was targeted late Friday night while carrying around 22,000 metric tons of fertilizer.

“The unprovoked and reckless attack by Iran-backed Houthi terrorists caused significant damage to the ship, which caused an 18-mile oil slick,” it said in a statement.

While the crew of 24 has been safely evacuated, the cargo of fertilizer “could spill into the Red Sea and worsen this environmental disaster,” it said.

The attack has heightened concerns for the Red Sea’s unique coral reefs, which scientists have found to be so far resilient to climate change but at risk from other threats.

“The Houthis continue to demonstrate disregard for the regional impact of their indiscriminate attacks, threatening the fishing industry, coastal communities, and imports of food supplies,” according to the statement.

While the Rubymar dropped anchor after the missile hit, its operator, Athens’ Blue Fleet Group, says the vessel is partly submerged and its engine room is flooded. Recovery operations have begun to tow the stricken ship to the nearby port of either Djibouti or Aden.

In a second statement, U.S. Central Command said it had destroyed seven Houthi mobile anti-ship missiles “in self-defense” before they were launched.

A coalition of American and British naval vessels and warplanes has been carrying out strikes against the Iran-backed group’s military depots and launch sites in a bid to prevent further disruption to the commercially vital waterway.