Drone Hits Israeli-Linked Oil Tanker Off Indian Coast, Security Firm Says

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A drone struck a vessel reportedly linked to Israel off the coast of India on Saturday morning—an unexplained attack that comes as the Houthi militant group continues a campaign of strikes against ships hundreds of miles west in the Red Sea.

The attack took place about 200 nautical miles off the coast of Veraval in India’s state of Gujarat—making it one of the furthest drone attacks to hit a vessel in recent weeks, after the Houthis began launching attacks from the portion of Yemen they control.

The Houthis have not taken credit, but British maritime security firm Ambrey confirmed to Forbes the attack took place in the “heightened threat area” for drone strikes.

India’s ANI news agency identified the vessel as the MV Chem Pluto, a Liberian-flagged tanker carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia to India that Ambrey told Forbes has a link to Israel (the Houthis have targeted ships it says are connected to Israel in the past).

The unmanned aerial vehicle struck the ship’s stern, sparking a fire in the ship’s rope locker and causing structural damage, according to Ambrey.

The fire was extinguished, but the vessel also sustained some damage to the aft, and the ship began taking on water, Ambrey said—no injuries or casualties were reported among the crew of 20 people.

Merchant vessels in the Red Sea have faced dozens of attacks by ballistic missiles and drones over the past month. Yemen’s Houthi movement has claimed responsibility for the majority of the attacks, which they say are a response to Israel’s war in Gaza. The Houthis control a large portion of northern Yemen, including the capital of Sana’a, and are allied with the Iranian government and Gaza-based militant group Hamas, which attacked southern Israel in October. The attacks have primarily been targeted at vessels linked to Israel. “Merchant vessels are advised that these types of attacks are typically targeted at Israeli-affiliated shipping, but have in the past mistakenly hit previously Israel-affiliated vessels,” Ambrey said. The drone attacks have slowed trade in the region, causing shipping giants Maersk and Hapag Lloyd to halt cargo shipments through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. BP also paused all oil shipments through the Red Sea on Monday. Swedish furniture store Ikea, dairy brand Danone, and appliance manufacturer Electrolux have all reported shortages and delays since the attacks began.

On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multinational security force aimed at protecting merchant vessels in the Red Sea. According to Austin, the Houthi attacks threaten “the free flow of commerce, endangers innocent mariners, and violates international law.” The coalition will include forces from the U.K., Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain, the Defense Department announced. Air Force Major General Pat Ryder said the coalition force will act as a “highway patrol” on the Red Sea shipping lanes, which the military estimates sees anywhere from 10-15% of all global shipping.

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