This handout photograph released by AS J Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi on December 12, 2023 shows the Norwegian-flagged chemical tanker the MT Strinda. Yemen's Al Houthi rebels claimed responsibility on December 12, 2023 for a missile strike on the Norwegian-flagged tanker, an attack the Iran-backed group said was part of its military campaign against Israel. Image Credit: AFP

DUBAI: A tanker in the Red Sea off Yemen’s coast was fired on by gunmen in a speedboat and targeted with missiles, maritime sources said on Wednesday, the latest incident to threaten the shipping lane after Yemeni Houthi forces warned ships not to travel to Israel.

A second vessel was also approached by the speedboat in the same area but was not attacked, British maritime security firm Ambrey and other sources said.

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The Iran-aligned Al Houthi group has sought to support their Palestinian ally Hamas in the Gaza war by firing missiles at Israel and threatening shipping in the busy Bab Al Mandab Strait, next to Yemen at the southern entrance to the Red Sea.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest incident in the busy shipping route off Yemen’s coast.

“[Al] Houthis continue to attack international shipping focusing on ships which in their opinion have a link to Israeli interests or nationals. The safety implications to international shipping are considerable and very concerning,” Jakob Larsen, head of safety and security at shipping association BIMCO, told Reuters.

“It is pure luck no seafarers have been killed yet.” Israel said the international community had to protect global shipping lanes.

Ambrey said a Marshall islands-flagged chemical tanker reported an “exchange of fire” with a speedboat 55 nautical miles (102 km) off Hodeidah, saying the boat had fired as it approached. It said the tanker was targeted by three missiles.

A security source, who asked not to be named, said two missiles were fired, with one of them brought down by an anti-missile battery and the second falling into the sea.

Ambrey said the tanker had been hailed by an entity claiming to be the Yemeni Navy asking the ship to alter course but a nearby warship advised the vessel to maintain course.

Coalition Task Force (CTF) Sentinel, the operational arm of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) that includes navies from the US, Britain and others, operates in the area to provide reassurance to commercial shipping.

Ambrey also said a Malta-flagged bulk carrier was approached by the speedboat.

Al Houthi group, based in Sana’a, in the north of a country devastated by years of war, has been targeting vessels it says are Israeli-owned or ships it says are heading to Israel. It has obstructed their passage through the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

A senior Houthi official on Tuesday warned cargo ships in the Red Sea to avoid travelling towards Israel, after saying they had hit a Norwegian tanker with a missile earlier in the day.

Separately, Britain’s Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency reported that five or six small boats, with machine guns mounted on their bows, followed a ship in the Arabian Sea for about 90 minutes about 90 nautical miles off the Omani coastal town of Duqm. They later left, it said.

The UKMTO advised ships to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity.