Stay informed on the latest developments surrounding the recent attacks on vessels in the Red Sea. Explore what is currently known about the incidents and stay updated with crucial details. Our comprehensive coverage keeps you in the loop on this significant event in maritime security.
The Norway-flagged tanker STRINDA was HIGHLY LIKELY attacked by a C-802/NOOR Anti-Ship Missile on 11 December 2023. However, it is still unclear if the attack was conducted by the Houthi Insurgents or a sponsor.
The Houthi Insurgents have to a large extent targeted Israel-affiliated merchant vessels exclusively. The recent statement made by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi changes the threat picture for vessels not affiliated with Israel though:
- The threat from INSURGENTS (Houthis) (Deliberate Attack) towards merchant vessels affiliated with Israel in the EASTERN PART OF THE SOUTHERN RED SEA from YEMEN TTW to the MSTC is HIGH – with a STABLE forecast.
- The threat from INSURGENTS (Houthis) (Deliberate Attack/Collateral Damage) towards merchant vessels not affiliated with Israel in the EASTERN PART OF THE SOUTHERN RED SEA from YEMEN TTW to the MSTC is MODERATE – with an INCREASING forecast.
From open sources, on 9 December 2023, General Yahya Sarea (aka Ansar Allah) the military spokesman of the Houthi Insurgents said:
“The Yemeni Armed Forces announce that they will prevent the passage of ships heading to the Zionist entity of any nationality. We warn all ships and companies against dealing with Israeli ports.”
On 11 December 2023 at 20:41 and 52 seconds UTC, the Norway-flagged and Israel affiliated (weak affiliation: tentative voyage to Ashdod (Israel) in January 2024) tanker STRINDA was attacked by a C-802/NOOR Anti-Ship Missile (ASM) in the south- eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming northbound approximately 14 nm west of Mocha (Yemen).
For further details, see Background – the STRINDA attack in detail later in this article.
On 13 December 2023 at 10:10 LT, the Marshall Islands-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: the Israeli Mr Ofer is a 9 % shareholder of Ardmore managers) tanker ARDMORE ENCOUNTER was exposed to an attempted boarding by an unknown number of perpetrators in one boat in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming northbound approximately 70 nm north-west of Hodeidah (Yemen). Prior to this the Master had refused to comply to a VHF call to change course. Up to 10 shots were then fired at the tanker by the perpetrators in the boat from a distance of around 300 meters (m). The tanker then continued on its course under the protection of the nearby US navy destroyer USS MASON. After the failed boarding attempt, two missiles or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) were fired at the tanker. One of those was intercepted by the USS MASON, the other exploded around 200 m from the ship’s stern. All crew are reports unharmed. The tanker was shining AIS.
On 14 December 2023 at 15:30 LT, the Hong Kong-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: business agreement between Maersk and ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.) container vessel MAERSK GIBRALTAR was attacked by a missile or a UAV in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming northbound approximately 32 nm north-west of Mocha. The missile or UAV missed the vessel and passed her aft before hitting the water. The vessel then turned south. No damages to the ship or injuries to crew members were reported. The vessel was shiningAIS.
On 15 December 2023 at 07:40 LT, the Liberia-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: business agreement between MSC and ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.) container vessel MSC ALANYA was approached by a small boat in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming northbound approximately 56 nm north-west of Mocha. The perpetrators onboard demanded that the vessel should not enter the Red Sea but instead head south. The master initially changed course but continued the voyage on a northbound course after around 20 minutes. No damages to the ship or injuries to crew members were reported. The vessel was shining AIS when approached but turned it off after the approach.
On 15 December 2023 at 08:55 LT, the Liberia-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: business agreement between Hapag-LIoyd and ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.) container vessel AL JASRAH was attacked by a missile or UAV on her port side in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming southbound approximately 32 nm north-west of Mocha. The attack caused a fire onboard which was later extinguished by the crew and one container fell overboard on impact. No crew members were injured. The vessel was shining AIS.
On 15 December 2023 at 13:15 LT, the Liberia-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: business agreement between MSC and ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.) container vessel MSC PALATIUM III was attacked by a missile or UAV in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming northbound approximately 23 nm south-west of Mocha. The attack caused a fire onboard which was later extinguished by the crew. The vessel immediately turned around and headed towards Djibouti. No crew members were reported injured. The vessel was shining AIS.
On 16 December 2023, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) Alvand-class frigate IRIS ALBORZ (72) was observed alongside the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) affiliated and Iran-flagged cargo vessel BEHSHAD at 15° 52′ N 41° 10,4′ E in the southern Red Sea 120 nm north-west of Hodeidah. The 1969 model IRIS ALBORZ was upgraded in 2019 with an AK-630M-based Kamand Close-In-Weapon System (CIWS) and what appears to be an associated Fire Control System (FCS). The vessel also got a new Electronic Warfare (EW) system. The IRIS ALBORZ makes maximum 39 kts, and its main armament is eight NOOR Anti-Ship Missiles in launch tubes pointing 90° out of the vessel, two triple torpedo tubes in addition to Automatic Naval Guns.
On 18 December 2023 at 07:53 LT, the Panama-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: business agreement between MSC and ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.) container vessel MSC CLARA was attacked by a missile or UAV in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming southbound approximately 30 nm south of Mocha. The missile or UAV missed the vessel and exploded approximately 2 nm away from the vessel. No crew members were reported injured. The vessel was not shining AIS.
On 18 December 2023 at 09:15 LT, the Cayman Island-flagged and Israel-affiliated (weak affiliation: outdated publicly available information claiming an old business agreement with Zodiac Maritime) tanker SWAN ATLANTIC was attacked by a SAMAD-3 UAV in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming southbound approximately 30 nm north-west of Mocha. The SAMAD-3 UAV impacted the vessel on port side in the area of one of the freshwater tanks. At approximately 10:15 LT the vessel observed a second attack which did not hit the vessel, but reportedly detonated in the water behind the vessel. No crew members were injured as result of the attacks. The vessel was shining AIS up to the first attack. The vessel was able to continue her passage post attack.
On 18 December 2023 at 11:58 LT, the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier MAGIC VELA was approached by a small boat with armed perpetrators onboard. Armed guards onboard the bulk carrier fired warning shots, resulting with the perpetrators aborting their approach. No crew members were injured. The vessel was shining AIS. There is no known affiliation to Israel to this vessel.
On 18 December 2023, the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, said the security challenge in the Red Sea is an international challenge that demands collective action. He further announced the establishment of “Operation Prosperity Guardian”, a new multinational security initiative under the umbrella of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and the leadership of its Task Force (TF) 153, which focuses on security in the Red Sea. The following countries have joined in:
- The US;
- The United Kingdom (UK);
On 20 December 2023, the Houthi Insurgent leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said during a televised speech that the US initiative to establish a coalition to ensure freedom of navigation for all countries in the Red Sea:
“Will not deter us in any way from our firm stance… the US move is turning the Red Sea into a war zone.”
He further warned all countries having joined the coalition:
“Don’t get involved… don’t let the security of your maritime ships.”
He further claimed that his group is attacking Israeli-linked ships only and said the policy was successful.
The STRINDA attack in detail
On 11 December 2023 at 20:41 and 52 seconds UTC, the Norway-flagged tanker STRINDA was attacked without any prewarning while steaming northbound at approximately 12 kts, some 14 nm west of Mocha and when she just had exited the Bab el Mandeb Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS). The weather was clear and the sea smooth during her transit. The vessel was shining AIS and followed normal transit procedures, and she was compliant to BMP-5. The look out on bridge observed a flashing light at a long distance on their GREEN (starboard) 45° (her 2 O’clock) some seconds before impact.
The C-802/NOOR Anti-Ship Missile (ASM) came in horizontal at a very high speed from her GREEN 45° and impacted the vessel just above the deck, and penetrating/exploding through three cargo-hold separation walls and ignited the palm oil in number 8 starboard cargo hold on its way.
The impact caused the vessel to shake violently, and several of the crew members were thrown out of their bunks. The vessel immediately lost propulsion and electricity, and the vessel also went to almost a full stop within seconds due to the forceful impact. Shrapnel penetrated starboard side of the infrastructure and broke most of the windows at bridge.
Neither the crew members nor the onboard security team were injured. The Master immediately pressed the Distress button, organized the crew and started to extinguish the fire onboard. When the fire came under control, the engines were restarted in order to gain steering speed to avoid collisions with other vessels.
On 11 December 2023 between 21:20 and 21:55 UTC, when the vessel had reach steering speed at course 300°, the vessel was called upon on VHF on several occasions by someone claiming they were Yemeni Naval Forces saying:
“Alter your course immediately to 350°, otherwise you will be attacked again. This is the last time I give you this warning!”
The voice on VHF was loud and clear. The French frigate FS LANGUEDOC immediately challenged the STRINDA and strongly advised her to continue on her course at 300° at her maximum speed. When following advice from French Navy, the vessel was again threatened by the first station making contact. This went back and forth between the Yemeni Naval Forces and the French Naval Warship.
On 11 December 2023 at 22:19 UTC, at this time the onboard fire was extinguished, and the vessel was steaming northbound approximately 23 nm west of Ikhtul (Yemen) and made 13 kts on a course 303°. When Master went out on portside bridge-wing to observe for further attacks, he observed a very bright and constant white light behind the vessel coming in fast towards the vessel on a 45° from above. About a ships-lengths behind the vessel the object exploded above water and fell into the sea.
On 11 December 2023 at 22:46 UTC, the Master observed on the radar two smaller Fast Moving Targets coming in on 25 kts on an angle towards the vessels from both sides from behind (from her RED 135° and her GREEN 135°). But when close to the vessel, they turned and passed the vessel alongside on each side in parallel then disappearing in front of the vessel.
On 11 December 2023 at 22:52 UTC, four smaller Fast Moving Targets were observed on the radar circling the STRINDA at a high speed (above 20 kts). None of these have been identified as friendly Navy Fast boats.
On 11 December 2023 at 22:54 UTC, when having zoomed out the radar, only two of the smaller Fast Moving Targets were still visible, while three Stationary larger Targets (but smaller than a merchant vessel) became visible. None of these larger, stationary targets where shining AIS and none of these were identified as friendly Navy vessels. If these three stationary targets were stationary also during the first attack at 20:41 UTC, they would have been approximately 25 nm away from STRINDA.
On 12 December 2023 at 01:48 LT, after having been advised by the US destroyer USS MASON now also on the scene, to turn around, the STRINDA turned around and continued south out of Bab el Mandeb under the escort of USS MASON. The French frigate FS LANGUEDOC was still in the waters close to STRINDA, and reportedly had engaged another flying object that was neutralized approximately 0,5 nm away from STRINDA at an unknown time.
How this began
Please find an overview of previously reported kinetic attacks on merchant vessels in the south-eastern Red Sea and other relevant information related to the war between Israel and Hamas:
On 14 November 2023, General Yahya Sarea released a statement in Arabic, English and Hebrew where they stated they would:
“Sink your ships”.
It also contained a graphic showing an Israeli vessel on fire.
In 19 November 2023 at 14:00 LT, the Bahamas-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: the Israeli Mr Ungar owns Ray Car Carriers) vehicle carrier GALAXY LEADER with 22 crew was boarded by Houthi Insurgents deployed to the vessel from a helicopter and seized while steaming southbound without shining AIS 50 nm west of Hodeidah.
On 26 November 2023 at 09:01 LT, the Liberia-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: the Israeli Mr Ofer owns the managers ZODIAC Maritime) tanker CENTRAL PARK was boarded by five armed perpetrators originating from Somalia from two small fast boats west of point A of the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden. The US Navy destroyer USS MASON later came to her rescue and all crew were reported to be unharmed.
On 29 November 2023 at 11:00 LT, the US Navy destroyer USS CARNEY shot down a UAV at an unknown position in the Red Sea. Reportedly it was an Iranian manufactured SAMAD-3 type UAV. The SAMAD-3 and the SHAHED-136 are parts of the Houthi Insurgent UAV arsenal.
See picture below of a 4,5 m wing-spanned and 2,8 m long with V-shaped tail fins SAMAD-3 UAV. The fuel-tank on the top reportedly allows a range of 1 500 km (one-way). The warhead reportedly contains of 18 kg High Explosives (HE) mixed with ball bearings. The piston engine reportedly allows a maximum speed of 250 km/t.
See picture below of a 2,5 m delta-winged and 3,5 m long SHAHED 136 UAV. The range is reportedly 2 500 km (one-way). The warhead reportedly contains of 36 kg HE, and the propeller driven engine reportedly allows a maximum speed of 185 km/t. The UAV can also be recognized by a distinct sound similar to a scooter/small motorcycle.
On 3 December 2023 at 12:28 LT, the Bahamas-flagged and Israel-affiliated (strong affiliation: the Israeli Mr Ungar owns the company Unity) bulk carrier UNITY EXPLORER was attacked by a missile or UAV in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming southbound at an unknown position close to the Bab el-Mandeb. The exploding object caused minor damage. The object was reportedly flying from west to east and exploded approximately 30 m above deck and in between the second and third crane.
In 3 December 2023 at 15:30 LT, the Panama-flagged and Israel-affiliated (weak affiliation: outdated information publicly available claiming an old business agreement with ZIM Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.) container vessel NUMBER 9 was attacked by a missile or UAV in the south- eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming northbound 70 nm north-west of Hodeidah. The NUMBER 9 was shining AIS.
On 3 December 2023 at 16:30 LT, the Panama-flagged bulk Carrier AOM SOPHIE II was attacked by a missile or UAV in the south-eastern part of the Red Sea while steaming southbound 30 nm north of Bab el-Mandeb, reportedly without doing significant damage. The AOM SOPHIE II was shining AIS. There is no known affiliation to Israel to this vessel. The Houthi Insurgents never took responsibility for the attack.
On 3 December 2023, General Yahya Sarea said:
“The Yemeni Armed Forces renew their warning to all Israeli ships or those associated with Israelis that they will become a legitimate target if they violate what is stated in this statement and previous statements issued by the Yemeni Armed Forces.”
Assessment of the STRINDA attack
Analysis of debris from the object hitting STRINDA.
The picture below is HIGHLY LIKELY the turbine blades on the axle on the engine of the object, making it HIGHLY LIKELY the engine being a turbojet engine.
The dimensions of the axle combined with three compressor steps, makes this LIKELY to be associated with, or a copy of, the French manufactured Microturbo TRI-60 2 engine.
The Microturbo TRI-60 2 is a small, expandable turbojet engine developed for use in cruise missiles and such. And the Chinese manufactured missile C-802 is LIKELY powered by a copy of the Microturbo TRI-60 2 engine. The C-802 is a medium range tactical Anti-Ship Missile (ASM) that have been exported to:
The missile has LIKELY a range of up to 120 km (64 nm) and is equipped with an active monopulse radar CNS operating in the range of 10-20 GHz and equipment for receiving correction commands from the carrier, which is used in the initial section of the trajectory to capture the target by the homing head. The C-802 is additionally equipped with GLONASS/GPS satellite navigation subsystem. The war head is a 165 kg semi-armor-piercing warhead which relies on the missile’s kinetic energy to pierce the deck of a ship and detonate in the ship’s interior. This fits well with the damage on STRINDA as the missile went through at least one wall on deck before detonating. The probability of hitting the target, even in the conditions of enhanced counteraction from the counterpart is reportedly 75 %. The missile’s low flight altitude, and interference suppression complex make it difficult to intercept the missile. The missile has a flight speed at approximately 0,9 Mach. The body diameter of the C-802 is 36 cm.
The calculated diameter of the object that hit STRINDA is 36 cm. This fact combined with the LIKELY Microturbo TRI-60 2 engine, are supporting a hypothesis that the object is either a C-802 missile or a missile based on the C-802 chassis. See pictures below HIGHLY LIKELY of a part of the frame of the object.
The colour of the object is turquoise, see picture of shrapnel below. This colour is quite unique for Iranian missiles. And if the missile is exported further from Iran, re-painting the missile would be UNLIKELY.
The colour is therefore further supporting a hypothesis that the object is either a C-802 missile or a missile based on the C-802 chassis.
The fact that there are Latin letters on several of the fragments found, is supporting a hypothesis that the missile is developed by Iran on the basis of the Chinese C-802 missile, as Iran is more LIKELY than China to use components from the West. The Iranian weapon industry was boosted by the US in the 70’ies during the former regime, and the current Iranian industry is still LIKELY a heritage of that.
The Houthi Insurgents have used C-802 or an Iranian developed version (like the NOOR missile) towards shipping before, last in 2016 and 2017, like on the United Arab Emirate (UAE) vessel HSV-2 SWIFT on 1 October 2016.
The missile used on STRINDA is LIKELY the C-802 or a missile developed by Iran on the basis of the C-802 chassis, the NOOR Anti-Ship Missile being the most LIKELY candidate. Both missiles can be launched from aircraft, from a vehicle or from medium large vessel.
Analysis of the ASM launch method and tactics.
If the ASM had been launched from an aircraft or a helicopter, it would have been mounted to a launch-rail. To mount the ASM to a launch-rail a certain bolt will be attached to ASM to enable it to be mounted.
The picture below is HIGHLY LIKELY where this bolt needs to be mounted on the ASM. As there are no broken fragments of a bolt inside, it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that such a bolt was mounted, and therefore HIGHLY UNLIKELY that the ASM was launched from a rail hanging under an aircraft or helicopter.
Rather it is HIGHLY LIKELY the ASM was launched either from a vehicle on land or from a vessel suited for such activity within a maximum range of 64 nm away (flight path not a straight line) from the STRINDA at the time of attack.
The C-802/NOOR ASM can be programmed to follow a path towards a specific area where the homing head discovers the target and guide the missile in its finale path towards it (the attack trajectory). On the STRINDA case we know the missile struck her on her GREEN 45° (her 2 O’clock). To get to the point where the homing head takes over the control of the missile, the missile has to maneuver through a certain number of pre-programmed points (Way Points (WP)). It is not known how many WPs the C-802/NOOR missile is capable of. Therefore, we assume it is capable of at least three WPs.
On the map below we have simulated three different launch sites and launch methods.
- A: From one of the three stationary vessel discovered on the radar on 11 December 2023 at 22:54 UTC.
- B: From a mobile land-based launcher on the Yemeni Zuqar Island.
- C: From a mobile land-based launcher on mainland Yemen.
All three alternatives are within maximum range of the missile.
Evaluation of alternative A. Alternative A would demand the capacity of at least three WPs on the weapons-system. It is within expected doctrine for a conventional and professional Navy to launch the missiles in order for it to attack the target from an unexpected direction to lure/outmaneuver the target’s defense systems. This alternative would demand a larger and specialized vessel, like a frigate etc. The Houthi Insurgents do not to have such naval capacities to their disposal. However, the main supporter of the Houthi Insurgents, Iran through their Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) Alvand-class frigate IRIS ALBORZ (72) has that capacity. This frigate was observed in the southern Red Sea LIKELY resupplying at 15° 52′ N 41° 10,4′ E on 16 December 2023. The IRIS ALBORZ has eight NOOR ASM launch tubes allowing such an engagement.
Evaluation of alternative B and C. Both alternative B and C demands (potentially) less WPs than the alternative A. The Houthi Insurgents do have the capability to launch the C-802/NOOR ASM from a mobile land-based launcher from an area they control in Yemen.
We does not hold information to determine if it was a sea-launched attack or a land-based attack on STRINDA. But all three alternatives are HIGHLY LIKELY technically possible and possible capability wise.
However, if it was a sea-based launch, the attack was LIKELY conducted by an Iranian Naval asset, like potentially the IRIS ALBORZ.
And if it was a land-based launch, the attack was LIKELY conducted by the Houthi Insurgents themselves.
For all three alternatives, the purpose of the four (or more) smaller Fast Moving Targets that were observed on the radar circling the STRINDA at a high speed (above 20 kts) on 11 December 2023 at 22:52 UTC, were HIGHLY LIKELY both to act as spotters in the targeting process of the vessel, but also potentially as a boarding force. As both the French Navy and the US Navy were operating close to the STRINDA in this case, a boarding HIGHLY LIKELY was aborted (if it was planned).
The Houthi Insurgents have repeatedly threatened Israeli interests, claimed UAV and missile attacks aimed at Israeli territory and attacks on Israel-affiliated merchant vessels. The continued firing of UAVs and missiles from Houthi Insurgent controlled areas in Yemen is therefore HIGHLY LIKELY a continuation of Houthi Insurgent support for Hamas on the Gaza strip.
The attacked merchant vessels so far, have to a large extent been Israel-affiliated vessels exclusively, either with a strong or a weak affiliation. It is worth mentioning that it is of course up to the Houthi Insurgents to decide the level of affiliation necessary to initiate an attack on a merchant vessel in the south-eastern Red Sea. It is also up to the quality of the available Intelligence to the Houthis to support them in that decision process.
As seen since 7 October 2023 at least on two cases, the attacks on SWAN ATLANTIC and NUMBER 9, were HIGHLY LIKELY based upon weak Intelligence. While the attacks on MAGIC VELA and AOM SOPHIE II LIKELY were mistakes made in the targeting process (collateral damage). All remaining attacks were HIGHLY LIKELY deliberate and pre-planned attacks on what the Houthi Insurgents perceived to be Israel-affiliated merchant vessels. So until now, a LOW threat (Deliberate Attack/Collateral Damage) towards merchant vessels not affiliated with Israel steaming through the south-eastern Red Sea has proven more or less correct. As well as a HIGH threat (Deliberate Attack) towards Israel-affiliated merchant vessels in the same area.
However, what HIGHLY LIKELY changes the picture now for vessels not affiliated with Israel, is the Houthi Insurgent leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi’s statement on 20 December 2023, where the Houthi Insurgents for the first time this winter threatens merchant vessels from other nations than Israel. More precisely merchant vessels affiliated with the U.S, the UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain. And having in mind that still it will be up to the Houthi Insurgents to decide the level of affiliation necessary, combined with the LIKELY increasing number of Intelligence failures and technical and human error (Collateral Damage) to be expected when the operational tempo increases in order to follow up on Abdul-Malik al-Houthi’s stated ambitions, the risk assessment for each vessel to pass these waters will become even more complex for the shipowners moving forward.
Therefore, due to the practical realities of this development, all other merchant vessels that is not affiliated with Israel, passing through the Red Sea will HIGHLY LIKELY be exposed to the same threat as those that in fact are affiliated with the US, the UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain moving forward.
Even if having launched a higher number of both missile and UAV attacks the last month, the Houthi Insurgents HIGHLY LIKELY still have larger amount of both missiles and UAVs left to be used. In addition, the use of Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (WBIED) and heliborne boardings or boarding from small craft are also HIGHLY LIKELY still available to the Houthi Insurgents and should be expected to be used as well.