26 DEC 2020
A merchant vessel has been hit by a sea mine in the southern Red Sea, Saudi state-owned outlet Al-Ekhbariya reported on Friday.
The outlet attributed the report to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebel forces in Yemen, and asserted that the mine was deployed by Houthi militias. The ship sustained minor damage and no crewmembers were injured according to the coalition. No further details were provided.
Houthi forces have made regular use of improvised sea mines and remote-controlled “bomb boats” over the course of their long-running conflict with Saudi-led forces. Historically, Houthi-claimed attacks centered on Saudi merchant shipping and coalition naval vessels, including a successful bomb boat strike on the frigate Al-Madinah in 2017. However, multiple recent attacks on non-Saudi shipping at ports in the central Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have raised the possibility that Houthi forces have expanded their range and portfolio of targets. Saudi forces have attributed these attacks to Houthi rebels.
Some strikes may be unintended collateral damage. In February 2020, the U.S. Maritime Administration warned of a threat of drifting mines near the maritime border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, in the area between Midi and Jizan. MARAD suggested that the mines may have drifted north – away from their intended target zone – due to a seasonal change of current flow. This threat is not isolated to combatant vessels: that month, the Saudi coalition reported that an Egyptian fishing vessel was sunk by a naval mine in the Red Sea, resulting in the loss of three lives.
“The . . . Houthi militia’s continuation of planting and deploying naval mines is a serious threat to maritime navigation and international trade in south of Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait,” said Saudi spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki in a statement in February. “The coalition will carry on its efforts to neutralize maritime and naval mine threats.”