Concerns Rise as Houthi Attack on Ship Leads to Oil Spill in Gulf of Aden

Damage caused by a Houthi attack on a cargo vessel, the Rubymar, has created a 29-kilometer-long oil slick in the Gulf of Aden, raising environmental concerns.

The British-registered and Lebanese-operated ship was attacked on February 18 while sailing through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said.

The Rubymar is a bulk carrier that was sailing with a Belize flag, and is owned by Golden Adventure Shipping.

The missile attack forced the crew to abandon the ship, which had been en route to Bulgaria after leaving Khorfakkan in the United Arab Emirates. It was transporting more than 41,000 tons of fertilizer, CENTCOM said in a statement.

Djibouti port officials said 24 crew members were on board: 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians, and four Filipinos, according to a New York Times report.

Greek-flagged bulk cargo vessel Sea Champion is docked to the port of Aden, Yemen to which it arrived after being attacked in the Red Sea in what appears to have been a mistaken missile strike by Houthi militia, February 21, 2024. (credit: FAWAZ SALMAN/REUTERS)

The ship is taking on water and leaking oil. CENTCOM warned that the ship’s cargo “could spill into the Red Sea and worsen this environmental disaster.”

International coalition formed to respond to attacks

A coalition warship responded to the distress call following the attack, and the crew was taken to a port by a merchant vessel in the area, a Central Command statement said. Since the Houthis began their attacks in November, a coalition of countries including the US and the UK have used naval forces to defend vessels and retaliate against attacks, although the attacks have persisted.

This attack on the Rubymar has been the most serious Houthi attack on ships in the Red Sea to date since the terrorist organization began its attacks in November. At least one missile struck the ship on Monday night after being fired from a Houthi-controlled part of Yemen, the US military said.

In a second incident in hours, a Greece-flagged, US-owned bulk carrier was attacked on Monday by missiles in two separate attempts, with no injuries to the crew although one window onboard was damaged, Greek shipping ministry sources told Reuters.

The Houthis claim that they have been targeting ships in an effort to pressure Israel to stop the war in Gaza, although many of the ships they have targeted are unrelated to countries involved in the war.