Red Sea attacks: Indian Navy’s guided missile destroyer INS Visakhapatnam responded to a distress call from British oil tanker MV Merlin Luanda on Friday after it was struck by a missile launched by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and has been deployed to the Gulf of Aden to assist the vessel, said the Navy in a statement. The tanker Marlin Luanda operated on behalf of the trading firm Trafigura and had 22 Indians and one Bangladesh crew onboard, according to the Indian Navy.
According to the Indian Navy, INS Visakhapatnam has deployed the warship’s Nuclear Biological Chemical Defence and Damage Control (NBCD) team along with firefighting equipment to help the crew to augment the firefighting efforts onboard the distressed vessel. “Indian Navy remains steadfast and committed towards safeguarding MVs and ensuring safety of life at sea,” the navy said.
The Houthi missile struck the British tanker on Friday which caused a fire. According to Trafigura, firefighting equipment on board was deployed to suppress and control a fire in a cargo tank on the starboard side, while military ships were underway to provide assistance. “We remain in contact with the vessel and are monitoring the situation carefully,” it said. Many oil tankers have kept using the strategic Red Sea route despite attacks by Houthi rebels.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency and British maritime security firm Ambrey said they had received reports of vessels being struck in the Red Sea near Yemen’s Aden and a fire breaking out aboard. On the same day, a vessel Free Spirit, chartered by Vitol to carry crude oil, did a U-turn before reaching the Gulf of Aden, shortly after the attack on the Marlin Luanda, according to data from LSEG.
The Houthi military spokesperson said naval forces carried out an operation targeting the “British” tanker Marlin Luanda in the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire to break out. They used “appropriate naval missiles, the strike was direct”, the Houthi military spokesperson, Yahya Sarea, said in a statement.
UK response to Houthi attack
The UK government has said Britain and its allies “reserve the right to respond appropriately” after an oil tanker was struck and set alight off coast of Yemen. “We are aware of reports that the M/V Marlin Luanda, a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, has sustained damage from attack in the Gulf of Aden. Current reports suggest no casualties and nearby coalition vessels are on the scene,” said a UK government spokesperson.
“We have been clear that any attacks on commercial shipping are completely unacceptable and that the UK and our allies reserve the right to respond appropriately,” the spokesperson added. The Houthis have repeatedly launched attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
India’s assistance to vessels
This is not the first time India has proved to be a valuable first responder to vessels who have been attacked by the Houthis in the Red Sea. Last week, INS Visakhapatnam responded to a drone attack by Houthis on Marshall Islands-flagged US-owned ship MV Genco Picardy, which had 22 crew members, including nine Indians, in the Gulf of Aden. INS Visakhapatnam, undertaking anti-piracy patrol in the area, intercepted the vessels on Thursday to provide assistance.
The attack on Genco Picardy happened some 70 miles (110 kilometers) southeast of Aden, where the drone smashed into the vessel, said the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, an arm of the British navy that oversees Mideast waterways. The ship’s captain reported there was a fire on board that had been extinguished, it said.
The Houthi attack on Genco Picardy prompted the US to officially relist the Houthi rebels on its list of specially designated global terrorists. The Houthis’ campaign has disrupted global commerce, stoked fears of inflation and deepened concern that fallout from the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the Middle East.
(with inputs from agencies)