27 DEC 2023 

The Indian Navy and Coast Guard are assisting a tanker 200 miles offshore after it was hit by a drone launched from Iran on Saturday morning, December 23. Analysts are raising concerns because of the distance from shore in an area where the attack took place. It also came as the Houthis in Yemen resumed targeting tankers in the area near the Bab al-Mandab Strait on Saturday after a few days lull in their activity.

The U.S.  Department of Defense from the Pentagon blamed the attack on the Liberian-registered tanker Chem Pluto on “a one-way attack drone fired from Iran.” Earlier in the day U.S. officials called out Iran saying it was behind all the recent attacks in the Middle East while Iranian media was citing a commander from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards saying that if the United States and its allies continued the war in Gaza, they would stop shipping in the area and the Mediterranean. The threat cited shipping as far west as the Strait of Gibraltar.

The Indian Coast Guard reported that there was a fire aboard the Chem Pluto (21,323 dwt) after the vessel was struck but the crew was later able to extinguish the fire. Pictures from their overflight of the vessel did not appear to show a fire or damage, but they are reporting that the vessel is having steering issues and assessing issues with its “power generation systems.” The strike happened about 10 a.m. local time but by 8 p.m. the tanker was reported to be underway again.

The Indian patrol vessel Vikram was ordered to meet up with the tanker and escort it to Mumbai. The vessel is managed by Ace Quantum Chemical Tankers of the Netherlands and owned by a Japanese company. It departed Saudi Arabia on December 19 and was sailing to New Mangalore, India where it was scheduled to arrive on December 25. The Indian Coast Guard reports that none of the 20 Indian and one Vietnamese crewmembers were injured in the attack.

The concern is that the vessel was in an area that was thought to be safe from attacks. This is beyond the distance of any previously reported incidents launched from Iran.

The attack from Iran came as additional missiles and drones were being reported coming from Yemen. U.S. Centcom late today said that two Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles were fired into the shipping lanes but did not strike any vessels. Previously, the United Kington Trade Organizations (UKMTO) reported two incidents, one 45 miles south west of Saleef, Yemen and a second 50 miles west of Al Hudaydah, Yemen. At least one explosion was reported 1.5 miles from one vessel. The USS Laboon, another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that transited the Suez Canal on December 18 and deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, reportedly shot down four unmanned aerial drones that were inbound from Yemen.

Centcom detailed that a Norwegian-registered tanker, Blaamanen (33,573 dwt) sailing from Constanta, Romania to India, reported a near miss of a Houthi one-way attack drone. In addition, a tanker registered in Gabon and managed from India reported it was hit by a one-way attack drone with no injuries. The Sai Baba loaded crude oil at the Russian Baltic terminal at UST-Luga and is also sailing to India.

U.S. officials are counting these latest incidents as the 14 and 15 attacks launched by the Houthis since October 17 on commercial shipping. UKMTO however numbered it as its twentieth report. It comes as there are continued reports of disagreements and disorganization in the U.S.-led coalition to increase safety in the Red Sea region.