on Tuesday 5 December, 2023

America mulls Red Sea maritime task force after missile attacks on two UK ships by Iran-backed Houthi rebels

America mulls Red Sea maritime task force after missile attacks on two UK ships by Iran-backed Houthi rebels
by : Evening Standard

Missile attacks on two UK ships in the Red Sea have triggered plans for a US-led maritime task force.

The White House said America may establish a naval task force to escort commercial ships in the Red Sea after three vessels were struck by missiles fired by Iranian-back Houthi rebels in Yemen.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said America has been in active conversations with allies about setting up the escorts though nothing is finalised, describing it as a “natural” response to the missile strikes.

Britain would be expected to take part in such a task force, with HMS Diamond having been deployed to the region to bolster the Royal Navy's presence there.

The Arleigh-Burke Class destroyer USS Carney responded to distress calls from three merchant ships which had come under attack on Sunday.

The two UK-owned vessels were the Unity Explorer and Number 9, with the third ship being the Sophie II.

No casualties were reported.

The missiles which hit the ships were reportedly fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

Iran backs the Houthi rebels.

USS Central Command said: "These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security. They have jeopardised the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world.

"We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran. The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners."

Britain’s Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I strongly condemn the outrageous and unlawful attacks on ships by Iran backed Houthi militants.

“The UK is committed to protecting maritime security & deterring escalation, with HMS Diamond deploying to the region as part of the UK’s efforts to ensure regional stability.”

Iran has denied it was behind the attacks which hiked concerns that the Israel-Hamas conflict could spiral into a wider Middle East war.

But Mr Sullivan said that while the Houthis had “their finger on the trigger,” the group’s Iranian sponsors were ultimately responsible.

“The weapons here are being supplied by Iran,” he stressed.

“Iran, we believe, is the ultimate party responsible for this.”

He added that the US does not believe that all three of the ships struck by the Houthis had ties to Israel, saying, “It goes to show you the level of recklessness that the Houthis are operating.”

HMS Diamond is joining HMS Lancaster, which deployed to the region last year, as well as three mine hunters and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship.

Royal Navy vessels have been permanently deployed to the region since 1980 and since 2011 have fallen under Operation Kipion which is the UK’s long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

Under the command of the UK Maritime Component Command in Bahrain, the British ships work with allies and partners across the region, including under the Combined Maritime Forces partnership.

But America appeared to be proposing to strengthen escorts and other support for commercial vessels after the latest attacks.

The Houthi missile strikes imperil traffic on one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes and with it global trade overall.

The US Energy Information Administration says 8.8 million barrels of oil a day are shipped through the Red Sea and the narrow straits of the Bab al-Mandab within range of the Houthis, making it one of world trade’s most crucial chokepoints.

The ships carry oil and natural gas from the Gulf to Europe, the United States and China.

The Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab are also part of a vital route for commercial shipping overall, carrying millions of tons of agricultural products and other goods to markets yearly.