The US military blamed Iran for enabling a string of attacks by Houthi militants on commercial shipping that targeted at least three vessels and said it would coordinate with allies to consider how to respond.

A spokesman for the Houthi rebels in Yemen said the group is in a fight with both Israel and the US, and would continue to target shipping amid the war in Gaza.

US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and parts of Asia, said that attacks on two bulkers and a container ship were a “direct threat to international commerce and maritime security” that have jeopardised the lives of crew members from multiple countries.

“We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran,” the Bahrain-based command said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“The US will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners.”

As TradeWinds has reported earlier on Sunday, attacks from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen targeted the 4,253-teu container ship Number 9 (built 2007) and two bulkers, the 60,700-dwt Unity Explorer (built 2016) and 81,200-dwt AOM Sophie II (built 2020).

A fourth vessel, SK Shipping’s 300,800-dwt VLCC C Genuine (built 2022), also reportedly saw an explosion, although Central Command made no mention of the tanker.

According to the military’s X post, the Unity Explorer was attacked twice.

Missile fire

The destroyer USS Carney, which was on patrol in the Red Sea, detected a ballistic missile fired from Houthi-controlled territory towards the bulker at 9.15am local time (06.15 GMT) on Sunday.

The Unity Explorer is in the fleet of UK-based Unity Maritime, which is controlled by Danny Ungar, the son of Israeli billionaire Abraham “Rami” Ungar.

The US Navy destroyer USS Carney fires on a combination of Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles in the Red Sea in October. The ship is part of the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Photo: US Navy Central Command

Central Command said the missile landed in the vicinity of the Bahamas-flagged ultramax.

The Carney then detected a drone approaching it from Houthi lands and shot it down.

At 12.35pm, the Unity Explorer reported that it had been struck by a missile fired from Yemen, leading the Carney to respond. As the warship helped carry out a damage assessment, it detected and shot down another unmanned aerial vehicle.

“We cannot assess at this time whether the Carney was a target of the UAVs,” Central Command said.

The Unity Explorer reported minor damage and no injuries, according to the US military.

Then at 3.30pm, according to Central Command’s account, a missile fired from Houthi territory struck the Orient Overseas Container Line-operated Number 9 while it was in international shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

The ship, which VesselsValue reports as owned by Mount Street Capital and managed by Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, was damaged, the US military said.

It did not specify the extent of the damage. There were no injuries.

Maritime security firm Ambrey Analytics said earlier on Sunday that several vessels nearby heard broadcasts indicating the Panamanian-flag Number 9 was “struck by [a] drone” and “taking on water”.

An Israeli military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, also told reporters the Unity Explorer and Number 9 were damaged, according to the Guardian and Reuters.

“One ship was significantly damaged and it is in distress and apparently is in danger of sinking and another ship was lightly damaged,” he said, without specifying which suffered the more serious damage.

US Central Command said the Carney also responded to the Panamanian-flag AOM Sophie II, which databases identify as owned by Japan’s Kyowa Shipping, after it issued a distress call saying it had been struck by a missile.

For a third time in the day, the Carney shot down a drone headed in its direction and reported “no significant damage” to the destroyer.

The apparent intensification of attacks on shipping comes after a breakdown of the agreement that paused fighting between Israel and Hamas, bringing the resumption of fighting in Gaza.

On Sunday, Houthi Brigadier General Yahya Saree confirmed that the rebel military that controls northwest Yemen targeted two ships that it described as Israeli, one with a drone and one with a missile.

“Today, we are in a decisive fight against the US and the Zionist enemy, and we will continue this until attacks on Gaza are stopped,” he said in the report.

Sailors on the USS Carney stand watch in the destroyer’s combat information centre during an operation to defeat a combination of Houthi missiles and drones in October. The ship responded to commercial vessels under fire in the Red Sea on 3 December. Photo: US Naval Forces Central Command

He said the rebels will continue to target ships with Israeli links, from the Red Sea to the Arabian Sea.

There were immediately apparent links to Israel in the case of only one of the ships attacked on Sunday, which suggests ships from around the world are in danger from the Houthi threat.

US Central Command said the Unity Explorer, Number 9 and AOM Sophie alone are connected to 14 countries.