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Ship attacked by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was full of grain bound for Iran, group’s main benefactor

View of the Laax, a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier that came under attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels.
Laax, a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier shown in an undated photo, came under attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels this week.
(Etat Major des Armees via AP)
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A Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier that came under attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels this week had a cargo of grain bound for Iran, the group’s main benefactor, authorities said Thursday.

The attack on the Laax comes as the Houthis continue their attacks on shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor, part of a campaign they say aims to pressure Israel and the West over the war in Gaza. However, as shipping through that artery has dropped during the months of attacks, the rebels have struck vessels associated with Iran, as well as Tehran’s economic lifelines of China and Russia.

Initially after the attack, the Laax had listed its destination as Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. On Thursday, however, its listed destination instead appeared to be Bandar Imam Khomeini, Iran.

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The Houthis have for weeks hinted about ‘surprises’ they plan for the battles at sea to counter the United States and its allies.

March 14, 2024

A statement released by French naval forces based in the UAE that patrol the Middle East also identified the vessel’s grain shipment as being bound for Iran. It said that a team from Djibouti had inspected the damage caused by the attack, which it said involved drones and missiles, and found no remaining dangerous explosives onboard the ship.

Images released by the French navy showed damage at the waterline of the vessel and on its deck.

Five missiles hit the Laax during Tuesday’s hours-long assault, the private security firm LSS-SAPU told the Associated Press. LSS-SAPU, which earlier helped evacuate mariners from the Houthi-attacked Rubymar that later sunk, said there had been no warning by radio from the Houthis.

LSS-SAPU had three armed security guards onboard the Laax at the time of the attack. Among the ship’s crew were 13 Filipinos and one Ukrainian, the Philippine Department of Migrant Workers said in a statement.

The move to pile financial sanctions on top of U.S. military strikes is the Biden administration’s latest attempt to stop the militants’ attacks on global shipping.

Jan. 17, 2024

The Houthis in recent months have stepped up attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, demanding that Israel end the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians there. The war began after Hamas-led militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostage.

The Houthis have launched more than 50 attacks on shipping, killed three sailors, seized one vessel and sunk another since November, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration.

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On Wednesday, another U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone apparently crashed in Yemen, with the Houthis claiming they fired a surface-to-air missile at it. The U.S. Air Force didn’t report any aircraft missing, leading to suspicion that the drone may have been piloted by the CIA. As many as three may have been lost this month alone.

Gambrell writes for the Associated Press.

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