The US military engaged directly with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. This incident, marking a significant escalation in regional tensions, involved the attack on the merchant vessel Maersk Hangzhou, owned by the shipping giant Maersk.
The company confirmed that the vessel came under attack on Saturday, leading to a distress call and a swift response from US helicopters. The US helicopters, responding to the situation, sank three Houthi boats after coming under fire.
This action represents the first time in 2023 that the US has actively engaged and eliminated members of the Houthi rebel group. The Houthis, known for their targeting of commercial and merchant vessels in the Red Sea, faced a direct counter from the US military in this instance.
Details of the Maritime Incident
The Maersk Hangzhou was navigating through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, a critical shipping lane connecting Singapore to Port Suez, when the attack occurred. Initially hit by an unidentified object, the ship managed to continue its journey, avoiding any onboard fires.
However, the situation escalated when four boats approached the Maersk Hangzhou, opening fire in an apparent attempt to board the vessel. In a coordinated effort, a helicopter from a nearby navy vessel, along with the ship’s security team, successfully repelled the boarding attempt.
Maersk's statement reassured that the crew of the Maersk Hangzhou remained safe and highlighted ongoing efforts to assess security in the area with Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multinational maritime coalition. From the US perspective, the Central Command reported that helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower and the destroyer USS Gravely were involved in responding to the Maersk Hangzhou’s distress call.
The US forces engaged with the Houthi boats in self-defense, sinking three of the four boats and eliminating their crews, while the fourth boat fled the area. The US Central Command confirmed that there were no damages to US personnel or equipment.
This incident underscores the complexity of the situation in the Red Sea, with the US taking a firm stance on protecting international shipping lanes while attempting to avoid further escalation of the crisis in Yemen. The National Security Council has reiterated that the US will continue to act in self-defense, marking a delicate balance in its approach to regional conflicts.