Escalation of Iranian and Houthi Naval Attacks

Iranian state media announced on March 6 that Tehran plans to “offload” $50 million worth of crude oil from a vessel it seized illegally in April 2023.

The Advantage Sweet is a tanker flagged in the Marshall Islands. Tasnim News in Iran reported that the ship would be unloaded. 

There is uncertainty surrounding the timing and implementation of this action. 

Intensified Houthi assaults

This development coincided with the Iranian-backed Houthis launching an attack on a vessel off Yemen’s southern coast, resulting in the death of three crew members.

Since expressing support for Hamas’ actions against Israel, the Houthis have targeted multiple ships. 

An aerial view of the Barbados-flagged ship True Confidence ablaze after a Houthi missile strike at sea on March 6, 2024, as seen in this handout photo. (credit: DVIDS/Handout via REUTERS )

This incident marks the first time casualties have occurred during their assaults, with a previously attacked ship sinking in the Red Sea in February.

“The unloading of the cargo follows a court order by Iran’s judiciary, which stated the move is in retaliation to US sanctions preventing the sale of critical medicine for Iranian victims of a rare skin disease,” Al-Arabiya reported. 

“Advantage Sweet is a Suezmax crude tanker that had been chartered by US firm Chevron,” the report noted.

Meanwhile, the US State Department urged Iran to release the vessel, condemning Iran’s ongoing harassment of ships.

Reports of Iran’s oil offloading coincide with claims by Iranian pro-government Fars News that the country’s navy has received new weaponry, including missiles and other munitions.

The attack on the Barbados-flagged True Confidence by the Houthis, resulting in the loss of three crew members, constitutes a significant escalation. 

BBC reported, “three crew members were killed and at least four others, including three critically, were injured in the incident, as per the US Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees operations in the Middle East.” The US denounced the assault. 

“These irresponsible attacks by the Houthis have disrupted global trade and claimed the lives of international seafarers,” CENTCOM stated. 

The UK also condemned the attack, as the US and UK have made efforts to deter Houthi assaults, despite their increasing frequency, accuracy, and impact.

While it could be attributed to chance over time, it is possible that Iran’s involvement has enhanced the Houthis’ targeting abilities. Iran has supported the Houthis for a decade, aiding in the expansion of their missile range and capabilities.

The Houthi threat to vessels represents a new development influenced by Iran, as they seek to instigate a multi-front conflict involving Israel and its regional allies.