US helicopters destroy Houthi vessels in Red Sea, killing crew after attempted boarding of cargo ship
US helicopters have destroyed a number of Houthi boats in the Red Sea following an attempted boarding of a cargo vessel as tensions over the Yemeni rebel group's continued targeting of Israel-linked vessels in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean increase.
The incident, which according to US Central Command (Centcom) occurred at 6:30am Sanaa time (0330 GMT) on Sunday, saw US helicopters attack four Houthi boats that attempted to board the ship Maersk Hangzhou.
In a statement issued on X, formerly Twitter, Centcom said that US helicopters went to aid the ship following distress calls as Houthi boats had targeted the security team of Maersk Hangzhou and reached within 20 metres of the ship.
The helicopters, which had taken off from the USS Eisenhower and USS Graverly, opened fire on the Houthi boat. According to Centcom "the US Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defence, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews," with the fourth boat fleeing the area.
The incident came after the Maersk Hangzhou was struck by a missile, with the USS Graverly and USS Laboon responding to assistance requests.
During the incident Centcom further stated that the USS Graverly had engaged two anti-ship ballistic missiles that had been fired from Houthi territory in Yemen.
According to open-source shipping website marinetraffic.com Maersk Hangzhou was destined for the Egyptian port of Suez, with the ship being Singapore-flagged and owned by Danish company Maersk.
Maersk had previously stated on Wednesday that several dozen ships were scheduled to travel via the Suez Canal and Red Sea in the coming days and week following the beginning of the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian aimed at protecting shipping in the area.
Iranian-backed Houthi small boats attack merchant vessel and U.S. Navy helicopters in Southern Red Sea— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) December 31, 2023
On Dec. 31 at 6:30am (Sanaa time) the container ship MAERSK HANGZHOU issued a second distress call in less than 24 hours reporting being under attack by four Iranian-backed… pic.twitter.com/pj8NAzjbVF
It has since announced that it will pause all sailing through the Red Sea for 48 hours.
The operation began after Yemen's Houthis vowed to target ships linked to and destined for Israel in and around the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait which links the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The Yemeni rebel group, which controls the capital Sana'a and most of northern Yemen, say this is in solidarity with the Gaza Strip, which has been devastated by a brutal Israeli war which has killed more than 21,800 people.
As part of these efforts, the Houthis have fired drones and ballistic missiles against shipping, and seized the ship Galaxy Leader in a boarding operation in November.
The US has warned the Houthis against further attacks in the Red Sea and has shot down dozens of ballistic missiles and drones fired from Houthi controlled territory.
UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron stated on X that he had spoke to Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, asserting that "Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks given their long-standing support to the Houthis". The UK is a participant in Operation Prosperity Guardian.
The US has consistently claimed that Iran is involved in Houthi attacks.