On January 1st, 2024, the United States Navy was involved in a significant maritime confrontation in the Red Sea, resulting in the U.S. sinking of three Houthi boats. This incident, a response to an attack on a merchant vessel, marks a notable escalation in the region’s maritime tensions.
The Singapore-flagged Maersk container ship, Hangzhou, issued a distress call early Sunday morning, reporting an attack by four small boats. According to U.S. Central Command, these boats, originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, fired upon the Hangzhou, attempting to board the vessel.
In response, helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and USS Gravely were dispatched. Despite initial verbal warnings, the small boats engaged the U.S. helicopters with crew-served weapons and small arms. The U.S. service members returned fire, sinking three of the four boats and killing the crews. The fourth boat escaped from the area amidst the chaos.
The Houthis, an Islamist military group from Yemen, acknowledged the loss of 10 group members in the engagement, describing the U.S.’s actions and intervention as “dangerous behavior” with potential “negative repercussions.” They reiterated their commitment to operating in the Red Sea and warned of consequences for what they termed a “crime” by American forces.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby emphasized on “Good Morning America” that the U.S. does not seek to escalate the conflict. According to Kirby, the U.S. hopes that the Houthis cease their attacks, as repeatedly stated by U.S. officials.
This incident followed weeks of Houthi attacks on ships identified as linked to Israel, part of their strategy to pressure Israel to end its war on the Gaza Strip. The U.S., along with a few other nations, has been attempting to counter these Houthi attacks under Operation Prosperity Guardian.
The maritime conflict has prompted shipping company Maersk to halt operations in the Red Sea temporarily. Other shipping firms are also responding, with some planning to reroute around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope instead of the Suez Canal, a longer and costlier route.
This escalation in the Red Sea highlights the complex dynamics of regional conflicts and their impact on international shipping and trade. The U.S.’s involvement and the Houthis’ response indicate a potentially volatile situation that could have broader implications for the region.