The Iran-backed rebels said they launched two missiles targeting the “Chem Ranger” that caused “direct hits” on the ship. The US officials claimed the missiles hit the water, without damaging the tanker or causing injuries to those onboard.
The “fairly small chemical tanker left the Red Sea port of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for Kuwait, but her AIS (automatic identification system) went offline on (Tuesday) before proceeding south past Yemen”, according to monitoring service TankerTrackers.com.
The recent attack is seen as a response to the American military’s weeks-long airstrikes in Yemen targeting the Houthis amid the growing tension in the Red Sea that has disrupted global trade and raised fears of supply bottlenecks.
President Biden on Thursday said his military would continue strikes against the Houthis but acknowledged that the airstrikes have failed to stop the militants. “When you say working, are they stopping the Houthis, no. Are they going to continue, yes,” Mr Biden said.
A US official said the American military conducted a fifth strike Thursday morning that targeted another missile launcher site. A day before it fired another wave of ship-and-submarine-launch missile strikes against the militant-controlled sites.
The strikes were launched from the Red Sea and hit 14 missiles that the command deemed an “imminent threat”.
The strikes followed an announcement that the US has put the Houthis back on its list of specially designated global terrorists. The sanctions that come with the formal designation are meant to sever violent extremist groups from their sources of financing, while also allowing vital humanitarian aid to continue flowing to impoverished Yemenis.
Despite sanctions and military strikes, including a large-scale operation carried out by US and British warships and warplanes that hit more than 60 targets across Yemen, the Houthis keep harassing commercial and military ships. The US has strongly warned Iran to cease providing weapons to the Houthis.
British prime minister Rishi Sunak said the situation remained “concerning” as attacks on commercial shipping in the region persisted despite the joint military action.
“…together with allies, we have been very clear in our condemnation of their behaviour. We will continue to urge them to desist from carrying out what are illegal attacks, putting people’s lives at risk,” he told reporters.
Separately, the US and its allies have formed “Operation Prosperity Guardian” to protect ship traffic, and currently, warships from the US, France and the UK are patrolling the area.
“These strikes will continue for as long as they need to continue,” said John Kirby, the national security council spokesperson. “I’m not going to telegraph punches one way or another.”
The crisis in the Middle East was escalated by Iran after it fired missiles targeting alleged terrorist hideouts in Pakistan this week, killing at least two children on Pakistani soil.
Islamabad responded with counter-strikes on Thursday, which Iran said killed at least nine people, including four children.
Pakistan was the third country to be struck by Tehran this week after earlier attacks on targets in Iraq and Syria, in a move that has further escalated the fears of conflict spreading across the Middle East.
The attacks were condemned by the US, which accused Iran of violating the “sovereign borders of three of its neighbours in just the past couple of days”.
Additional reporting by the agencies