A suspected missile attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels damaged a ship in the Red Sea on Monday, authorities said, the latest assault in their campaign against international shipping in the crucial maritime route.

The attack happened off the coast of Mokha, Yemen, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said. The ship sustained damage in the attack, the UKMTO said, though its crew was safe and heading to its next port of call. The agency urged vessels to exercise caution in the area.

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There was “an explosion in close proximity to a merchant vessel,” the UKMTO said. “Vessel and crew are reported safe.”

Yemen map

A suspected missile attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeted a ship in the Red Sea, the latest assault in their campaign against international shipping in the crucial maritime route. (AP Photo)

The private security firm Ambrey said a salvo of three missiles targeted a Malta-flagged container ship traveling from Djibouti onward to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“The vessel was targeted due to its listed operator’s ongoing trade with Israel,” Ambrey said.

CMA CGM, a Marseille, France-based shipper, had its Malta-flagged CMA CGM Manta Ray due to sail to Jeddah from Djibouti on Monday. However, the shipper said the vessel remained at harbor in Djibouti and could not have been targeted in the incident.

In a statement released late Monday, the Houthis said: “The Yemeni Armed Forces carried out military operations against hostile warships in the Red Sea, of which two American warships were targeted with a number of drones.”

The statement said the attacks on ships would not stop “unless the siege is lifted and the aggression against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is stopped.”

Meanwhile Monday, the Italian Defense Ministry said its frigate Virgino Fasan shot down a Houthi drone that morning near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

“A missile exploded in the water in the vicinity of the escorted vessel, causing only minor superficial damage,” the Italian Defense Ministry said, not identifying the commercial vessel being escorted. “The frigate Fasan and the protected merchant vessel are continuing their southward route as planned to exit the Red Sea.”

The Houthis say their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden are aimed at pressuring Israel to end its war against Hamas in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 others hostage.

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Houthi attacks have dropped in recent weeks as the rebels have been targeted by a U.S.-led airstrike campaign in Yemen. Shipping through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden has declined because of the threat.

American officials have speculated that the rebels may be running out of weapons as a result of the U.S.-led campaign against them and after firing drones and missiles steadily for months. However, the rebels have renewed their attacks in the past week. Early Sunday morning, the U.S. military shot down five drones in the air over the Red Sea, its Central Command said.

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The drones “presented an imminent threat to U.S., coalition, and merchant vessels in the region,” Central Command said in a statement.

The Houthis on Saturday claimed they shot down another of the U.S. military’s MQ-9 Reaper drones, airing footage of parts that corresponded to known pieces of the unmanned aircraft. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bryon J. McGarry, a Defense Department spokesperson, acknowledged to The Associated Press on Saturday that “a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 drone crashed in Yemen.” He said an investigation was underway, without elaborating.

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