Yemen’s Houthis vow to obstruct rescue of leaking ship in Red Sea

Cargo ship Rubymar is pictured in the Black Sea. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 26 February 2024

Yemen’s Houthis vow to obstruct rescue of leaking ship in Red Sea

  • Hours after the US-UK strikes, the Houthis said they had targeted the US-flagged, owned, and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor in the Gulf of Aden
  • Houthi attacks are disrupting the vital Suez Canal trade shortcut that accounts for about 12 percent of global maritime traffic

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia has pledged to prevent the rescue of a leaking UK-linked ship in the Red Sea before humanitarian aid can reach Gaza, raising concerns that they would use the ship as leverage. 

On Feb. 18, the Houthis fired a missile that severely damaged a UK-owned and Belize-flagged ship, causing an 18-mile oil slick in the Red Sea and threatening a major environmental disaster if its cargo of over 41,000 tons of fertilizer leaked into the sea, according to the US Central Command.

The leak has caused the Yemeni government to seek international aid from countries and conservation groups to secure the ship.

Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, a Houthi leader, said that they would only allow the world to retrieve the leaking ship if people in Gaza had access to food, water, and medicine, prompting Yemenis to express concern that the Houthis might be using the ship as a bargaining chip, as they had done with the floating tanker Safer in the past.

“The sinking British ship might be hauled in return for delivering aid vehicles to Gaza,” Al-Houthi said on X. 

On Saturday night, the US and UK militaries launched additional strikes against 18 locations in Houthi-controlled Yemen, including underground arms and missile storage facilities, air defense systems, radar, a helicopter, and one-way attack unmanned aerial systems, according to a statement from the US Central Command.

This comes as UK Foreign Minister David Cameron pledged on Sunday to launch more attacks to discourage the Houthis from undermining international navigation freedom in the Red Sea.

“Despite repeated warnings, the Houthis have continued their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, including targeting UK-linked vessels, undermining regional stability. We have been clear that we will back our words with actions,” he said on X.

In Sanaa, the Houthis defied pleas to end their Red Sea strikes by claiming to have fired missiles on Saturday at the US-flagged and operated oil tanker MV Torm Thor and drones at US Navy ships in the Gulf of Aden.

“Yemen’s Armed Forces affirm that they would counter the American-British escalation with more qualitative military operations against all hostile targets in the Red and Arab seas,” Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said in a statement. 

At the same time, Yemeni officials and experts believe the Houthis would use the leaking ship as leverage to get concessions from the world, including legitimacy. 

“We’ve seen that before. The Houthis used Safer as leverage for years with complete disregard for the potential environmental disaster it would have caused if leaked,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., told Arab News.

After years of opposition, the Houthis agreed in 2023 to allow UN engineers to dump more than a million barrels of oil off the deteriorating floating FSO Safer tanker moored near Yemen’s western city of Hodeidah, averting an environmental calamity.

Ali Al-Fakih, editor of Al-Masdar Online, said that although the world’s attention is not as focused on the leaking UK-owned ship as it was on the Safer, the Houthis would continue to use the leakage to obtain international legitimacy for their militia.

“The Houthis appear unconcerned about the potential harm to Yemen’s maritime ecology or the loss of thousands of fishermen’s livelihoods,” Al-Fakih told Arab News, adding: “They want the world to acknowledge their sovereignty over the sea and depend on them as local agents to safeguard the waterways, which would offer them the legitimacy they currently lack.” 

Israeli raid on Gaza’s Yabna refugee camp kills at least 7, including 4 children

Updated 7 sec ago

Israeli raid on Gaza’s Yabna refugee camp kills at least 7, including 4 children

  • The strikes hit the residence of the Abul Honoud family in central Rafah

GAZA: At least seven Palestinians, four of them children, were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday night.

The strikes hit the residence of the Abul Honoud family in Yabna refugee camp, according to Arab News’ reporter in Gaza.

Local rescue teams continue to search for bodies and injured people trapped under the rubble.

Approximately 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah, with Israel having razed entire neighborhoods in northern and central Gaza, forcing survivors to flee south.

At least 33,899 Palestinians, 12,300 of them children, have been killed since Israel’s invasion began last October, according to Gaza’s health authorities.

Crew of ship seized by Iran are safe, operator MSC says

Updated 26 min 55 sec ago

Crew of ship seized by Iran are safe, operator MSC says

  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the container vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus

LONDON: The 25 crew members of the MSC Aries, which was seized by Iran on April 13, are safe, shipping firm MSC said on Wednesday, adding that discussions with Iranian authorities are in progress to secure their earliest release.
“We are also working with the Iranian authorities to have the cargo discharged,” the Swiss headquartered company said in a statement.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the container vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1. Iran had said it could close the crucial shipping route.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the leading seafarers’ union, said on Wednesday that their priority was the welfare and safety of the seafarers onboard.
“I can confirm the ITF has been in touch with family of the crew on board MSC Aries – who have reported today they’re safe and being treated reasonably,” ITF inspectorate coordinator Steve Trowsdale told Reuters.
“We continue to call on the Iranian authorities to urgently release the crew and the vessel.”
Portugal’s foreign ministry summoned Iran’s ambassador on Tuesday to condemn Saturday’s attack on Israel by Tehran and to demand the immediate release of the Portuguese-flagged ship.
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.
The Advantage Sweet, Niovi and St. Nikolas tankers, which were taken last year, were anchored in Iranian waters as of April 12, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which tracks Iran-related tanker traffic via satellite data.
Iran’s foreign ministry said on Monday that the MSC Aries was seized for “violating maritime laws,” adding that there was no doubt the vessel was linked to Israel.
MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.
Recent attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
The Houthis are still holding the Galaxy Leader commercial ship and its 25 crew after the militia’s commandos boarded the vessel at sea on Nov. 19.

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

Updated 17 April 2024

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

  • Tehran’s charge d’affaires to UK: ‘Another mistake’ by Israel will be met by ‘stronger’ response
  • Weekend drone, missile salvo a ‘legitimate’ defensive operation, West given ‘considerable warning’

LONDON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to drag the West into a “total war” in the Middle East, Iran’s top diplomat in the UK has warned.

In his first comments since Tehran’s drone and ballistic missile attack last week, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, Iran’s charge d’affaires to the UK, said “another mistake” by Israel would be met by a response, The Guardian reported.

Tehran would carry out a stronger attack without warning, unlike last week’s strike, which was communicated days in advance, he added.

The salvo of more than 300 drones and ballistic missiles came in response to the April 1 Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, which killed senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials.

Matin said: “The response to the next mistake of the Zionist will not take 12 days’ time. It will be decided as soon as we see what the hostile regime has done. It will be immediate, and without warning. It will be stronger and more severe.”

Israel has committed to responding to the Iranian attack but has yet to release any information.

Matin said Iran had ruled out attacking civilian targets or completing its nuclear weapons program, both before the escalation and following any potential Israeli response.

US and European leaders have called for calm in conversations with Netanyahu, but have also urged the launch of a new round of sanctions on Iran in the wake of last week’s attack.

Matin denied that Tehran had made a strategic error in launching the strike, saying Western powers are “losing credibility” in the Middle East and the US will end up leaving the region.

“This is a good opportunity for Western countries to demonstrate that they are rational actors, and they are not going to be entrapped by Netanyahu and his goal, which is to be in power for as long as he could actually stay in power,” Matin added.

“Iran has considered its actions very carefully, and understood that there is a trap, but not for Iran: For the Western countries and allied countries in which they are drawn by the Zionist state into a total war inside the Middle East, and the whole world soon may be unable to control the consequences.”

Before Iran responded to Israel’s strike on its consulate, Tehran had urged Western officials to condemn the Damascus attack and push for a ceasefire in Gaza, Matin said.

But figures, including UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, rejected the Iranian requests. “As Cameron mentioned, rightly, every nation has the right to defend itself against this kind of flagrant breach of diplomatic and international law,” Matin said, adding that Iran’s drone and ballistic missile attack had only targeted Israeli military sites.

“Iranian forces didn’t target any populated sites so as to prevent human casualties, nor did it attack government buildings and centres. It was a legitimate defence operation that was conducted in a way that gave considerable warning,” he added.

“Now, I can say that the mission is accomplished. And that’s it. That’s what we have announced very publicly, that that mission is concluded.”

Tehran had been forced to reinstate deterrence in the wake of the consulate strike, Matin said, adding that the response had displayed “military capabilities, missiles, and drones more powerful than what all the international community expected from Iran.

“Nobody can, at the moment, imagine that Iran is Iran of the Iran-Iraq war. Iran is now a regional superpower.”

At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

Updated 17 April 2024

At least one dead after heavy rains set off flash floods in UAE

  • UAE witnessed record rainfall with 254 mm, the most since records began in 1949
  • Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, facing significant disruptions 

DUBAI: Authorities and communities across the United Arab Emirates were clearing debris on Wednesday after a torrential downpour killed at least one person and caused damage to homes and businesses.
The UAE witnessed a record rainfall with 254 mm falling in Al Ain on Tuesday in less than 24 hours, according to the national meteorology center. That was the most since records began in 1949, before the country was established in 1971.
Although heavy rains had eased by late Tuesday, disruptions were continuing on Wednesday with Emirates airline suspending check-in for passengers departing Dubai airport until midnight.
Dubai International Airport, one of the world’s busiest, said it was facing significant disruptions after the heavy rains delayed or diverted flights and had impacted flight crews.
Passengers departing Dubai were advised against heading to the airport and to check their flight status with their airline.
“We are working hard to recover operations as quickly as possible in very challenging conditions,” the airport wrote on X.
Emirates said passengers who were already in transit would continue to be processed but warned that delays to departures and arrivals should be expected. The Dubai airport website showed hours-long delays for some arrival and departure flights.
Local media reported that an elderly Emirati man in his 70s died on Tuesday morning when his vehicle was caught in flash floods in the Ras Al Khaimah emirate, in the country’s north.
In neighboring Oman, 19 people died, including school children after three consecutive days of heavy rain, according to Omani media, which published images of flooded communities.
The Times of Oman reported that more rain was expected on Wednesday. In Dubai, the skies were clear but in some areas the roads were quiet after the government ordered its employees and all schools to work remotely for a second consecutive day.
UAE media and social media posts showed significant damage from the torrential downpour in some parts of the country, including collapsed roads and homes inundated by water.
Social media posts on Tuesday showed flooded roads and car parks with some vehicles completely submerged. Sheikh Zayed Road, a 12-lane highway through Dubai, was partially flooded, leaving people stuck in a kilometers-long traffic jam for hours.

Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack

Updated 17 April 2024

Iranian military says it is ready to deal with any Israeli attack

  • Iran is bracing for a possible Israeli retaliation, with Israel’s war cabinet meeting on Wednesday to discuss a response

DUBAI: Iran said on Wednesday its military was ready to confront any attack by Israel, with the air force saying it was prepared for action.
Iran’s navy commander said also that it was escorting Iranian commercial vessels to the Red Sea.
Iran carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel last weekend in retaliation for a suspected Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus on April 1.
Israel has said it will hit back and its war cabinet was meeting on Wednesday to discuss options.
“Any attack by the Zionist regime (Israel) on our soil will be dealt with a severe response,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Wednesday at a parade held for Army Day, state media reported.
The commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force warned at the same event that its warplanes, including Russian-made Sukhoi-24s, were in their “best state of preparedness” to counter any Israeli attack.
“We have full readiness in all fields, including our air coverage and bombers, and are prepared for any operation,” Brig. Gen. Amir Vahedi said.
A direct attack on Revolutionary Guards bases or nuclear research facilities within Iran is one of the options Israel has to strike back. Targets outside of Iran are also a possibility.
Admiral Shahram Irani said the Iran Navy was escorting Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“The Navy is carrying out a mission to escort Iranian commercial ships to the Red Sea and our Jamaran frigate is present in the Gulf of Aden in this view,” Irani said.
Tehran was ready to escort vessels of other countries, he added.
The Red Sea has seen significant disruption to Israel-bound shipping due to attacks from Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.
On April 13, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the MSC Aries, a Portuguese-flagged container ship in the Strait of Hormuz which Tehran says is linked to Israel.