Houthi ballistic missile strikes US cargo ship, United States Central Command says

Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile struck a US-owned and operated cargo ship on Monday, US Central Command said in a statement.

The attack against the Gibraltar Eagle appears to be the first time the Houthis have successfully struck a US-owned or operated ship, raising the stakes in the Red Sea after the US vowed that further Houthi launches would be met with a response.

It came just days after a US-led coalition carried out strikes against the Iranian-backed rebel group in Yemen and warned more strikes were possible if the Houthi attacks continue.

The M/V Gibraltar Eagle, a Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier owned and operated by US-based Eagle Bulk, sustained minor damage and did not report any injuries on board, Central Command said. The ship is continuing on its way.

A statement from Eagle Bulk Shipping on Monday confirmed that the Gibraltar Eagle, which is carrying a cargo of steel products, was hit "by an unidentified projectile" roughly 100 miles offshore in the Gulf of Aden.

"As a result of the impact the vessel suffered limited damage to a cargo hold but is stable and is heading out of the area," the statement said. "All seafarers onboard the vessel are confirmed to be uninjured."

The UK maritime security agency (UKMTO) said it received a report about the incident. 

Eagle Bulk Shipping said it was in "close contact with all relevant authorities."

"Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO," the maritime security agency said.

The Houthis have not officially claimed responsibility for the Monday attack on the Gibraltar Eagle.

Following US-led strikes on Thursday against nearly 30 sites in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen with more than 150 precision guided munitions, the Biden administration said the US will defend its assets and interests in the region. The US tried to portray its strikes as a last-resort option following repeated warnings to the Houthis, saying it was trying to prevent further escalation.

"We will stand fully prepared to defend ourselves and defend that shipping, if it comes to it," John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, said on Friday.

The Houthis promised to retaliate, saying that any US or UK asset would be a "legitimate target." The Houthis have launched approximately 30 attacks toward international shipping lanes since mid-November, forcing many of the world’s largest shipping companies to avoid the Red Sea, one of the world’s most critical waterways.

Earlier on Monday, the Houthis attempted to launch an anti-ship ballistic missile that failed in flight and crashed in Yemen, Central Command said.

UK-based maritime security group Ambrey said that a total of three missiles were launched toward the Red Sea on Monday. The group said two of the three missiles did not reach the sea and the third one impacted a US-owned and operated vessel.

The Houthis have not officially claimed responsibility for the Monday attack on the Gibraltar Eagle.

On Thursday, the US and UK struck 28 separate Houthi sites in an attempt to disrupt the group’s ability to fire upon international shipping lanes in the Red Sea. The two countries were also backed by Canada, Australia, Bahrain and the Netherlands.

The US carried out additional strikes on Friday night which were much smaller in scope and targeted a radar facility used by the Houthis, a US official said.

On Friday, Yahya Sare’e, the Houthi rebels’ military spokesperson said they would continue their aggression against commercial ships in the Red Sea.