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US warship shoots down drones as Red Sea crisis deepens

US warship shoots down drones as Red Sea crisis deepens

by host

An American destroyer intercepted four drones fired by Houthi militants into the busy shipping lanes of the Red Sea, as the escalating crisis saw two commercial tankers hit in one chaotic day.

In a statement issued Sunday, U.S. Central Command said its navy had “shot down four unmanned aerial drones originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen that were inbound to the USS Laboon” the day before. The American destroyer had been patrolling the area as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian, the Washington-led mission to prevent violence spilling over into the strategic waterway.

On Saturday, the Pentagon announced that a Japanese-owned, Liberian-flagged chemical tanker, the Chem Pluto, had been struck by a drone in the Indian Ocean, stating that the attack was launched from Iran.

According to data from analytics platform Kpler, seen by POLITICO, the Chem Pluto had been carrying almost 43,000 barrels of highly-flammable benzene en route to the port of Mangaluru at the time, but no casualties have been reported. The attack was well outside the usual area of operation for Houthi drones, around 300 nautical miles from the coast of India and it is believed to be the first time the U.S. has accused Iran directly of targeting commercial shipping since the crisis began.

Washington has previously said intelligence revealed Iran was “deeply involved” in planning attacks on vessels, working closely with Yemen’s Houthi rebels to cause a crisis that experts fear is already threatening the world economy. Houthi forces say they are targeting vessels with links to Israel in retaliation for its war in Gaza.

On Saturday evening, two civilian ships in the Red Sea area sounded the alarm that they were under attack. The Blaamanen, a Norwegian-flagged vessel carrying a quarter of a million tons of sunflower oil, reported it had narrowly avoided an attack drone, while Indian-flagged crude oil tanker Saibaba confirmed it had taken a direct hit.

Close to the Suez Canal which links Europe to Asia, more than 10 percent of global trade passes through the Red Sea, with around 17,000 ships a year crossing between the Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea.

In his first interview since being appointed as U.K. foreign secretary, former British prime minister David Cameron, told The Telegraph on Friday that the West must send “an incredibly clear message that this escalation will not be tolerated” to Tehran. Along with France, Italy and Spain, the U.K. is one of a handful of countries joining forces with the U.S. as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian.

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