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Crew abandon cargo ship after attack off Yemen

The Houthis said they had targeted the the Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo ship Rubymar (file photo)

The crew of a Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo vessel have abandoned ship off Yemen after it was hit by missiles fired by the Houthi movement.

The Rubymar was in the Gulf of Aden and nearing the Bab al-Mandab Strait when it was struck, security firms said.

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A Houthi military spokesman claimed that the ship suffered “catastrophic damage” and was at risk of sinking.

The UK condemned the “reckless attack” on the Rubymar and said allied naval vessels were “already on the scene”.

It is one of the most damaging attacks yet carried out by the Iran-backed Houthis, and is the latest evidence that Western efforts to deter them are yet to succeed.

The Houthis have launched dozens of missiles and drones at merchant vessels and Western warships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since mid-November, in what they say is a show of support for the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The attacks have prompted many shipping companies to stop using the critical waterway, which accounts for about 12% of global seaborne trade.

US and British forces began carrying out air strikes on military targets across Houthi-controlled western Yemen in response last month.

On Sunday night, the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said it had received a report of an incident from an unnamed ship about 35 nautical miles (65km) south of the Yemeni Red Sea port of Mocha.

The master had reported “an explosion in close proximity to the vessel resulting in damage” at about 23:00 local time (20:00 GMT), it added.

Early on Monday, the agency cited military authorities as reporting that the crew abandoned the vessel following an attack.

“Vessel at anchor and all crew are safe,” it said. “Military authorities remain on scene to provide assistance.”

British maritime security firm Ambrey separately reported that a Belize-flagged cargo ship had come under attack in the Bab al-Mandab Strait on Sunday as it sailed northwards.

Rubymar’s security firm, LSS Sapu, and data provider Lloyd’s List Intelligence later confirmed that it had sustained damage after being hit by two missiles.

“We know she was taking in water,” a spokesperson for LSS-SAPU told Reuters news agency.

“There is nobody on board now,” it added. “The owners and managers are considering options for towage.”

According to data from MarineTraffic, which last received a tracking signal on Sunday, the Rubymar had been travelling from Saudi Arabia to Bulgaria.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea announced in a statement on Monday morning that its naval forces had fired a number of missiles at “a British ship” in the Gulf of Aden, which he identified as the Rubymar.

“The ship suffered catastrophic damage and came to a complete halt,” he said, without providing any evidence.

“As a result of the extensive damage the ship suffered, it is now at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden. During the operation, we made sure that the ship’s crew exited safely.”

The 172m-long Rubymar is flagged in Belize, its operators are from Lebanon and its registered owner is Golden Adventure Shipping, with an address in the British port of Southampton.

The UK government said current reports suggested there were no casualties resulting from the attack.

“Nearby coalition vessels are already on the scene and HMS Richmond continues to patrol in the Red Sea to help protect commercial shipping,” a spokesperson added.

“We have been clear that any attacks on commercial shipping are completely unacceptable and that the UK and our allies reserve the right to respond appropriately.”

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