Armed Houthis stand on the beach as the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by the militants last month, is anchored off the coast of Al Salif, Yemen. Image Credit: REUTERS

SANA’A: Yemen’s Iran-backed Al Houthi militants said on Tuesday they would not halt attacks on Red Sea shipping in solidarity with Gaza despite the announcement by the United States of a new maritime protection force.

The flurry of drone and missile attacks by the militia, the latest of which targeted two vessels on Monday, threaten to upend global trade flows, with major shipping firms halting traffic through the Bab Al Mandab strait.

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“Even if America succeeds in mobilising the entire world, our military operations will not stop... no matter the sacrifices it costs us,” senior Al Houthi official Mohammad Al Bukhaiti said on X, formerly Twitter.

Rebel spokesman Mohammad Abdul Salam said the “US-formed coalition aims to protect Israel and militarise the sea,” adding that “whoever seeks to expand the conflict must bear the consequences of those actions.”

The two officials spoke after Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin announced a 10-nation coalition on Monday to quell Al Houthi missile and drone attacks on shipping passing through the Red Sea, with Britain, France and Italy among countries joining the “multinational security initiative”.

Austin said the force would operate “with the goal of ensuring freedom of navigation for all countries and bolstering regional security and prosperity.”

Yemen’s Al Houthi rebels have launched a flurry of drone and missile attacks on vessels passing through the Red Sea, aimed at pressuring Israel over its devastating war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, they claimed attacks on two vessels in the vital shipping lane between Asia and Europe, including the Norwegian-owned Swan Atlantic.

The US military’s Central Command said the Swan Atlantic “was attacked by a one-way attack drone and an anti-ship ballistic missile launched from Al Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen”.

It said the guided missile destroyer USS Carney “responded to assess damage”.

At approximately the same time, “the bulk cargo ship MV Clara reported an explosion in the water near their location,” CENTCOM said.

No casualties were reported in either attack, it added.

‘Difficult to intercept’

Insurance costs have soared, prompting major shipping firms to reroute their vessels around the southern tip of Africa, despite the higher fuel costs of the much longer voyage.

Denmark’s A.P Moller-Maersk — which accounts for 15 per cent of global container freight - is among the shipping giants that have suspended Red Sea voyages until further notice.

In a statement on Tuesday, it said “all vessels previously paused and due to sail through the region will now be re-routed around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope.”

As of Monday, “Maersk had approximately 20 vessels that had paused transits, out of which half were waiting”.

According to analysts, the maritime task force announced by Washington can do little to halt attacks by Houthi rebels, who command an arsenal of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones.

“The Houthis have an extended arsenal of different drones and missiles that they can shoot... and some of them will be difficult to intercept by your average navy ship,” Andreas Krieg, a professor at King’s College London, told AFP.

Torbjorn Soltvedt of the risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft said the “threat to shipping is also further increased by the group’s ability to deploy anti-ship mines and execute coordinated operations using boats and helicopters.”