Iran-backed Houthi militants struck a Singapore-bound oil tanker with an anti-ship missile in the Gulf of Aden on Friday, setting the vessel on fire and prompting a multi-nation rescue effort.
Crews were able to extinguish the fire on board the tanker Marlin Luanda — operating on behalf of Singapore-based Trafigura — close to twenty hours later on Saturday.
The missile strike marks a serious escalation of attacks by Houthi militants given they have, so far, primarily targeted container vessels moving through the Red Sea.
As a result, many oil tankers have continued to use the route.
Uncertainty over how long that might continue, in light of Friday’s attack, pushed oil prices to a more than two-month high.
The Marlin Luanda was carrying Russian naphtha — an oil product — purchased below the price cap in line with G7 sanctions, a Trafigura spokesperson said on Friday.
That adds to the seriousness of the attack, as tankers carrying Russian and Chinese-origin oil have so far been deemed safe to move through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
Both countries are close allies of Iran — a key backer of the Houthis.
Crew safe, ship heading to safety
In a statement on its website, commodities trader Trafigura said: “All crew on board the Marlin Luanda are safe and the fire in the cargo tank has been fully extinguished. The vessel is now sailing towards a safe harbour.”
The statement added that the firefighting effort had been supported by Indian, US and French navy vessels.
The US military had said earlier that a US Navy ship and other vessels were providing assistance to the Marlin Luanda.
Houthis Strike M/V Marlin Luanda Operating in the Gulf of Aden
On Jan. 26, at approximately 7:45 p.m. (Sanaa time), Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists fired one anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and struck the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker M/V… pic.twitter.com/Mw3Mg138cy
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) January 27, 2024
S&P Global reported that the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel had been headed to Singapore.
Trafigura said no injuries or casualties had been reported as a result of the attack.
Trafigura ‘assessing risks’
The Houthis have launched waves of exploding drones and missiles at vessels since November 19. The attacks, they say, are aimed at showing support for Palestinians in the Gaza War.
Several shipping companies, including the world’s largest Maersk, have suspended transits through the Red Sea.
They are now taking much longer, costlier journeys around Africa, a move that could worsen the hold of high inflation, especially on developed economies.
The attacks have also sent freight rate for Europe-bound vessels to its highest level in almost four years, S&P Global said.
Earlier this week, the UN’s trade agency said freight movement through the Suez Canal in the Red Sea — the shortest route connecting Asia to Europe — had plunged 45% since the attacks began.
In its statement, Trafigura said no other vessels operating on behalf were currently transiting the Gulf of Aden.
“We continue to assess carefully the risks involved in any voyage.”
- Reuters, with additional inputs from Vishakha Saxena