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Houthi attack on Red Sea ship causes massive oil slick

February 24, 2024

The US military said the Rubymar bulk carrier sustained "significant damage" in an attack by the Iran-backed rebels. The vessel was carrying 41,000 tons of fertilizer, which has the potential to spill into the sea.

An aerial shot of a ship with an oil slick trailing behind
The MV Rubymar was attacked by Iran-backed Houthi rebels on February 18Image: US Central Command/AFP

The Yemen-based Houthi attack last week on a UK-owned ship in the Red Sea caused a 29-kilometer (18-mile) oil spill, the US military said early Saturday.

The Rubymar, a Belize-flagged vessel, was attacked on February 18, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, adding that the vessel "is anchored but slowly taking on water."

CENTCOM said that the vessel was transporting over 41,000 tons of fertilizer when it suffered an "unprovoked and reckless attack" that caused "significant damage" and an "18-mile oil slick."

Fertilizer spill would worsen 'environmental disaster'

The statement warned that the fertilizer has the potential to spill into the Red Sea and worsen what it already billed as an "environmental disaster."

The Houthi rebels said on Monday that they had attacked a British ship in the Gulf of Aden, claiming that the vessel was so severely damaged that it could sink.

The ship's operator said Thursday the ship could be towed this week to Djibouti, where the crew were evacuated to, before being flown home.

The cargo ship MV Rubymar, carrying Ukrainian grain, is seen in the Black Sea off Kilyos near Istanbul, Turkey November 2, 2022
The Rubymar previously carried Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea Image: Mehmet Emin Calsikan/REUTERS

Houthi mobile cruise missiles destroyed

In a separate statement, CENTCOM said its forces on Friday destroyed seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen that "were prepared to launch towards the Red Sea."

The regional command said it determined the missiles "presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region."

Houthi-run media reported strikes by the US and the UK on the district of Durayhimi in the Red Sea province of Hodeida.

The militia has vowed to attack shipping in the Red Sea linked to Israel over the latter's ongoing conflict with the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, in Gaza.

However, many of the ships that have come under fire have no connection to Israel.

At least one of the ships contained cargo for Iran, the Houthis' main benefactor.

Because of the continuing attacks, major shipping companies are increasingly avoiding the Red Sea and Suez Canal — the shortest sea route between Asia and Europe.

Instead, they are sailing around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, which takes several days longer and adds about $1 million (€0.92 million) to costs.

The US and British militaries have in recent weeks launched waves of strikes on Houthi-held areas inside Yemen in response to the attacks.

This week, EU foreign ministers approved their own naval mission to protect the vital shipping lanes.

Germany to take part in Red Sea naval mission

mm/wmr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)