The Houthis have decided to respond to fresh warnings and threats from the US and Western allies by sending an unmanned boat packed with explosives to disrupt international shipping lanes in the Red Sea. Clearly, Biden's "warnings" are doing nothing to deter anything.
The Thursday incident marks the first time the Houthis have deployed a drone boat since its attacks started in the wake of Oct.7. Drones and ballistic missiles from Yemen have wreaked havoc thus far. A US Navy official said, however, that the drone boat exploded before it was able to strike any vessels.
"We all watched as it exploded," Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, the head of US Navy operations in the Middle East said in a press briefing. He described that the "one-way attack" was inbound toward shipping lanes "clearly with the intent to do harm" - and that the boat is a "new capability". He indicated it came within a couple miles of foreign ships.
"Fortunately, there were no casualties and no ships were hit, but the introduction of a one-way attack USV is a concern," he added.
Already major shipping companies have diverted their tanker and cargo ships to avoid the Red Sea region entirely. But ironically on the very day the Houthis unveiled their drone boat capability, the Pentagon tried to put a positive spin on its Operation Prosperity Guardian, meant to thwart Red Sea attacks. Adm. Cooper cited that some 1,500 commercial were able to transit the waters safely since the allied operation was launched on December 18.
Still, Adm. Cooper admitted that "There are no signs the Houthis' irresponsible behavior is abating." The US Navy has tallied that the total number of Houthi attacks since Nov. 18 is now at 25.
Meanwhile, also on Thursday there's been a fresh piracy incident off Somalia. A Liberian-flagged vessel bound for Bahrain was boarded by armed men while it traversed to the south-east of Eyl, Somali.
"Five to six unauthorized armed persons have boarded a merchant vessel…in the vicinity of Eyl," the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said in an advisory. "Crew are mustered in citadel."
Somali militants have long threatened these waters, but given the bulk of diverted Red Sea traffic must travel via the Cape of Good Hope instead, the fear is that the resulting increased traffic off the Somali coast will lead to more 'opportunity' and ample targets for pirates.
On Wednesday, the White House warned that this ongoing Red Sea turmoil could hit the US economy in a briefing:
The White House has warned that the potential for higher shipping costs to affect the U.S. economy amid diversion of ships from the Red Sea will depend on how long Houthi rebels sustain their attacks on commercial vessels.
“If we weren’t concerned, we wouldn’t have stood up an operation in the Red Sea, now consisting of more than 20 nations, to try to protect that commerce,” White House spokesman John Kirby said at a White House press conference on Wednesday, referring to the U.S.-led military force Operation Prosperity Guardian.
“The Red Sea is a vital waterway, and a significant amount of global trade flows through it. By forcing nations to go around the Cape of Good Hope, you’re adding weeks and weeks onto voyages, and untold resources and expenses have to be applied in order to do that. So obviously there’s a concern about the impact on global trade.”
Interestingly, Kirby was then asked by a reporter whether the spiraling situation would become “pocketbook” issue for Americans.
Kirby responded by saying "It would depend on how long this threat goes and on how much more energetic the Houthis think they might become." He added: "Right now we haven’t seen an uptick or a specific effect on the U.S. economy. But make no mistake. This is a key international waterway. Countries more and more are becoming aware of this increasing threat to the free flow of commerce." Thus he fully acknowledged this is a distinct possibility that's fast approaching.
One thing is clear - the Western coalition statement filled with warnings aimed at the Houthis and released with great fanfare clearly didn't have the intended effect...
Wild.— Yasmine El-Sabawi ياسمين السبعاوي (@yasmineelsabawi) January 3, 2024
Palestinians would really love to get the same amount of attention and protection as shipping containers. pic.twitter.com/bT4ikWYeKy