This picture taken on March 23, 2024 shows the Rubymar cargo ship partly submerged off the coast of Yemen. The bulk carrier went down off Yemen after a Houthi missile attack and poses grave environmental risks as thousands of tonnes of fertiliser threaten to spill into the Red Sea, officials and experts warn. Image Credit: AFP

DUBAI: A Chinese-owned oil tanker was attacked off Yemen on Saturday by ballistic missiles fired by Houthi rebels, who have intensified strikes on Red Sea shipping, the US military said.

The Panamanian-flagged, Chinese-owned and operated Huang Pu issued a distress call but did not request assistance, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement on social media platform X early on Sunday.

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“No casualties were reported, and the vessel resumed its course,” the statement said.

The Iran-backed militants, who control much of Yemen’s Red Sea coast, have launched dozens of missile and drone strikes on shipping over the past four months, actions they say are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

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CENTCOM and the British navy’s United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO) said a fire had broken out on board the ship but was extinguished within 30 minutes.

The Marinetraffic tracking website later had the vessel sailing out of the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden heading for its next port of call which, according to maritime security agency Ambrey, was New Mangalore in India.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which UKMTO said struck 23 nautical miles west of the Yemeni port of Mokha.

CENTCOM said Houthis had launched four anti-ship ballistic missiles in the Red Sea near the Huang Pu before a fifth hit the vessel.

“The Houthis attacked the MV Huang despite previously stating they would not attack Chinese vessels,” it said.

According to Ambrey, “the tanker’s registration details, including name and operator, had been changed as recently as February 2024”.

It had been registered in 2019 by British firm Union Maritime Ltd, Ambrey said, and another vessel affiliated with the same company had previously been targeted by the Huthis.

The Huthis have vowed to target Israeli, British and US ships, as well as vessels heading to Israeli ports, disrupting traffic along the vital trade route.

The United States, which leads an international coalition meant to protect Red Sea shipping, has been hitting Huthi targets in Yemen since mid-January.

CENTCOM said that, following the attack on the Huang Pu, US forces engaged six drones launched by the Houthis, five of which crashed into the Red Sea.

The sixth flew into a Huthi-controlled area of Yemen, it said.

On Thursday, Houthis have told China and Russia their ships can sail through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden without being attacked.

China and Russia reached an understanding following talks between their diplomats in Oman and Mohammed Abdul Salam, one of the Houthis’ top political figures, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing private matters.

Spokespeople for the governments of China and Russia, as well as the Houthis, including Abdul Salam, didn’t reply to Bloomberg’s requests for comment.