Thursday, October 13, 2016

Threat to Freight as US Navy Strikes Yemen Missile Sites Astride Critical Shipping Route

Firm Response to Multiple Attacks in Last Two Weeks
Shipping News Feature
YEMEN – Following missile attacks on the USS Mason and the HSV-2 Swift in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait which we reported recently, the US Navy today struck three radar sites controlled in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen's Red Sea coast. At just after 0400 local time today the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) launched Tomahawk cruise missiles at the sites which the US Navy said ‘...were used to attack US ships operating in international waters, threatening freedom of navigation.’ Initial assessments show the sites were destroyed. As our previous article stated there are obvious concerns for tankers and merchant vessels carrying freight in the Strait and beyond.

Prior to the strike the US Navy had announced that the Mason had been engaged once again by missile batteries on Wednesday night leading to President Obama to authorize a retaliatory response. A successful Houthi strike on a US Naval vessel would be an obvious coup for the Yemeni forces.

The action marks an escalation in the conflict in Yemen which has grown into a de facto proxy war between the Saudi’s and Gulf Arabs on one side and Iran on the other. The siting of weapons systems across the straits and the increasingly destabilised position of Yemen is of considerable concern to ships transiting through what is one of the key transport routes in the international freight system.

It now remains to be seen if the local actors who have participated in the previous attacks take seriously the risk of further US intervention as regards threats to shipping in the region, or whether they too will respond with further escalation. As anti-ship missiles are notoriously indiscriminate in their targeting once launched, the possibility of the expansion of the military conflict in this critical global trade chokepoint is one that shipping lines around the world will continue to take extremely seriously.

Photo: The USS Nitze in action.