US announces naval coalition to defend Red Sea shipping from Houthi attacks | US militarythedigitalchaps


The US has announced the creation of an enhanced naval protection force operating in the southern Red Sea in an attempt to ward off mounting attacks from Yemen’s rebel Houthis on merchant shipping.

Britain said it would be among the countries participating but notable absentees were Arab nations Egypt and Saudi Arabia while analysts speculated that shipping would continue to be disrupted and attacks continue.

Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, said the new effort would be called Operation Prosperity Guardian and was necessary to tackle the “recent escalation in reckless Houthi attacks originating from Yemen”.

Other participants in the effort, Austin said, included Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain.

But it was not clear it had any immediate impact on securing the strategic waterway, through which an estimated 50 merchant ships normally pass each day, heading to and from the Suez canal, often transiting between Asia and Europe.

Danish company Møller–Maersk said on Tuesday it would reroute ships around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, a journey that takes 10 or more days longer, and that it would continue to monitor the situation closely.

“We have faith that a solution enabling a return to using the Suez Canal and transiting through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden will be introduced in the near future, but at this time it remains difficult to determine exactly when this will be,” Maersk added.

Other shipping companies have previously announced they would halt or reroute traffic, including British oil firm BP, Hong Kong’s OOCL, Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd and the Italian-Swiss-owned Mediterranean Shipping Co.

Yemen’s Houthis, who are aligned with Iran, have been eager to show support for Hamas in Gaza, and began by trying to mount long-range missile attacks into Israel. But these were largely intercepted by Saudi Arabia and the US and had no impact.

Tactics switched dramatically a month ago, when the Houthi fighters dramatically seized the Galaxy Leader, a British-owned and Japanese-operated cargo ship, in a helicopter raid captured on video. It remains in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.

But while the Houthis initially said they were seeking to target Israeli shipping, they have stepped up their attacks on a wide variety of merchant tankers heading through and towards the 18-mile-wide Bab el-Mandeb strait.

On Monday, the US military said that the Swan Atlantic tanker was attacked by a drone and an anti-ship ballistic missile launched from a Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen. Its Norwegian owners reported limited damage to the ship, and no injuries to its crew, and the vessel continued sailing under US naval protection.

On Saturday, the USS Carney, a destroyer already patrolling in the Red Sea, shot down 14 Houthi one-way attack drones. French and British warships have also shot down drones in the Red Sea area in the past week.

Britain said it would contribute HMS Diamond, a destroyer, alongside three US destroyers to Operation Prosperity Guardian, after a morning call of 20 international defence ministers led by Austin.

“The government is working with the US, France and other international allies to provide significant deterrence to prevent attacks on free shipping that would affect free trade,” said a spokesperson for the UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak. “I think it is right the government is acting early alongside our allies to significantly step up the deterrents to curb these attacks.”

One analyst, Farea Al-Muslimi from the Chatham House thinktank, said they expected the Houthi attacks to continue for now despite the US announcement – and that commercial shipping was likely to remain wary of using the Red Sea.

“The Houthis will carry on, they love attention and they have a wide degree of support in the Arab world,” Al-Muslimi said. “So far nobody has died as a result of the Houthi attacks – if somebody is killed then there will likely have to be a response.”

But the maritime security effort is weakened, Al-Muslimi added, by the absence of either Egypt or Saudi Arabia, unable to sign up to the coalition because of heightened concerns in the Arab world about Israel’s intense bombing of Gaza, and Washington’s support for Israel.

A further tension is how to protect commercial shipping without escalating the conflict to the point where the US and allies are bombing Yemen to suppress the Red Sea attacks, because, Al-Muslimi said, “the US doesn’t want to make another frontline with the Houthis”.

At the same time negotiations between the Houthis and Saudi Arabia to halt their long-running war remain at a delicate point. Peace talks brokered by Oman had been running during 2023, but the outbreak of the war in Gaza had already made progress uncertain before the attacks on merchant shipping began a month ago.

Additional reporting by Aletha Adu