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Casualties reported after suspected Houthi attack on ship

Fatalities were reported after a suspected attack on a commercial vessel by the Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday.

The attack on the Barbados-flagged bulk carrier True Confidence further escalates the conflict on a crucial maritime route linking Asia and the Middle East to Europe that has disrupted global shipping. The Iranian-backed Houthis have launched attacks in response to Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza, and the U.S. began an airstrike campaign in January that so far hasn’t halted the rebels’ attacks.

Meanwhile, Iran announced Wednesday that it would confiscate a $50 million cargo of Kuwaiti crude oil for American energy firm Chevron Corp. aboard a tanker it seized nearly a year earlier. It marks the latest twist in a yearslong shadow war playing out in the Middle East’s waterways even before the Houthi attacks began.

The attack Wednesday on the True Confidence came after it had been hailed over the radio by individuals claiming to be the Yemeni military, officials said. The Houthis have been hailing ships over the radio in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since launching their attacks, with analysts suspecting the rebels want to seize the vessels.

The extent of the damage to the Liberian-owned ship remained unclear, but the crew fled the ship and deployed lifeboats – signaling a serious incident, a U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Two other U.S. officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity as they didn’t have authorization to speak publicly, acknowledged the attack caused “fatalities,” without elaborating.

A U.S. warship and the Indian navy were on the scene, trying to assist in rescue efforts, the official said.

The UKMTO on Wednesday night acknowledged the ship had been abandoned by its crew and was no longer under command.

The Houthis didn’t immediately claim the attack, though it typically takes several hours for them to acknowledge an assault.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over Israel’s incessant attacks on Palestinians in Gaza. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo bound for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, and an aid ship later bound for Houthi-controlled territory.

Despite more than a month and a half of U.S.-led airstrikes, Houthi rebels have remained capable of launching significant attacks. They include the attack last month on a cargo ship carrying fertilizer, the Rubymar, which sank on Saturday after drifting for several days, and the downing of an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars.

It was unclear why the Houthis targeted the True Confidence. However, it had previously been owned by Oaktree Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based fund that finances vessels on installments. Oaktree declined to comment.

Meanwhile, a separate Houthi assault Tuesday apparently targeted the USS Carney, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that has been involved in the American campaign against the rebels. The Carney shot down bomb-carrying drones and one anti-ship ballistic missile, the U.S. military’s Central Command said.

The U.S. later launched an airstrike destroying three anti-ship missiles and three bomb-carrying drone boats, the Central Command said.

Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a Houthi military spokesperson, acknowledged the attack on the Carney.

The Houthis “will not stop until the aggression is stopped and the siege on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is lifted,” Saree said.

The Houthis haven’t offered any assessment of the damage they’ve suffered in the American-led strikes that began in January, though they’ve said at least 22 of their fighters have been killed. One civilian has reportedly been killed.

The U.S. Treasury separately announced new sanctions targeting a Houthi financier and the expeditionary Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which arms the rebels.

The Houthis have held Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, since 2014. They’ve battled a Saudi-led coalition since 2015 in a long-stalemated war there.

Meanwhile, the Indian navy released a video of its sailors from the INS Kolkata fighting a fire aboard the MSC Sky II, which had been targeted by the Houthis in the Gulf of Aden on Monday. The Mediterranean Shipping Co., a Switzerland-based company, said the missile struck the ship as it was traveling from Singapore to Djibouti. No one was injured.

Iran separately announced the seizure of the crude oil aboard the Advantage Sweet through an announcement carried by the judiciary’s state-run Mizan news agency. At the time, Iran alleged that the Advantage Sweet collided with another ship, without offering any evidence.

The court order for the seizure offered an entirely different reason for the confiscation. Mizan said it was part of a court order over U.S. sanctions it alleged barred the importation of a Swedish medicine used to treat patients suffering from epidermolysis bullosa, a rare genetic condition that causes blisters all over the body and eyes. It didn’t reconcile the different reasons for the seizure.

The Advantage Sweet had been in the Persian Gulf in late April, but its track showed no unusual behavior as it transited through the Strait of Hormuz, where a fifth of all traded oil passes. Iran has made allegations in other seizures that later fell apart as it became clear that Tehran was trying to leverage the capture as a bargaining chip to negotiate with foreign nations.

Chevron, based in San Ramon, California, said Wednesday that the Advantage Sweet had been “seized under false pretenses” and that the company “has not had any direct communication with Iran over the seizure of the vessel.”

“Chevron has not been permitted access to the vessel and considers the cargo a total loss due to Iran’s illegal actions,” Chevron said in a statement. “We now consider the cargo the responsibility of the Iranian government.”

Ship seizures and explosions have roiled the region since 2019. The incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

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