Navy rescues merchant crew in the Red Sea, bombs Houthi sites

The U.S. Navy rescued two dozen civilian sailors on the Red Sea after their ship was critically damaged by Yemen’s Houthi militants. The airlift came after the Houthis were able to hit two merchant ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden this past week. 

On Saturday, June 15, a helicopter from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 74 airlifted 24 merchant sailors off the Tutor, a Greek-owned ship flying under the Liberian flag. The civilian crew was taken first to the USS Philippine Sea before being moved to the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower for medical evaluation. The Tutor was hit by a Houthi uncrewed surface drone, causing severe flooding in the ship and damaging its engine. One sailor from the Tutor remains missing since the attack, according to U.S. Central Command.

The attack on the Tutor was the first successful assault by the Houthis on a ship using uncrewed surface vessels. Previous attempts failed and the group has mostly focused on aerial attacks, using missiles or one-way attack drones. The Houthis continue to attack merchant ships in the waters off of Yemen, even after months of airstrikes and bombing campaigns on Houthi-controlled sites by the U.S.-led multinational coalition.

In response to the attack, American forces destroyed multiple radar installations in Yemen used in planning attacks on shipping lanes, CENTCOM said. It’s not clear how the sites were destroyed, or if there were any casualties; CENTCOM did not specify and the Houthis have not commented on the strikes. Additionally, on June 14, American forces intercepted and destroyed two uncrewed surface vessels and an aerial drone. 

The airlift of the Tutor’s crew came after several attacks on merchant vessels in the waters around Yemen this past week. On June 13, the Ukrainian-owned cargo ship Verbena, flying under a Palauan flag and operated by a Polish company, was hit by two separate missile attacks. That day, the USS Philippine Sea medically evacuated an injured civilian from the Verbena. Two days later the crew said it was abandoning ship; the crew was rescued by another merchant ship.

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The Houthis, a religious and nationalist Yemeni group that controls the majority of the country following a prolonged civil war, began attacking ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in October. The campaign was in response to Israel’s war in Gaza, with Houthi leadership saying it would continue the attacks until the war ended. Since October American and later allied ships have repeatedly intercepted drones and missiles, struck launch and radar sites and carried out several wider bombing campaigns in Yemen, including in the capital city of Sana’a. 

Last month the U.S. military extended the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group’s deployment in the Middle East, due to the ongoing attacks.

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