Last night a UAE-flagged ship was reportedly sunk off the cost of Yemen near the port city of Mokha. The vessel, the HSV-2 Swift, was a military logistics trimaran which had previously been used by the US Navy, before being handed over to UAE control in 2015.
Pro-Houthi TV released video footage of the attack which depicted Houthi or Yemeni Army units tracking the HSV-2 Swift both visually and on radar. An anti-ship missile was then shown being fired, and finally a separate camera angle captured the missile hitting the ship, causing apparent catastrophic damage and setting it ablaze. While this is not the first ship pro-Houthi forces have claimed to have sunk during the ongoing war in Yemen, this is the first time they have backed up their claims with video footage.
The UAE responded to the attack, claiming the vessel was not operated by the UAE Navy and instead was delivering humanitarian aid to Yemen. They went on to say that the vessel was damaged, but civilians on board were rescued. Such comments were also echoed by others involved in the Saudi-led Coalition involved in the fighting in Yemen.
“We strongly condemn the attack on UAE's civil ship carrying humanitarian aid to Yemen. This crime should not pass without accountability,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani, the Foreign Minister of Qatar.
While at this time it is not possible to verify if the vessel hit was being used for military logistics, humanitarian purposes, or indeed both, it nonetheless represents a dangerous escalation for the conflict. If the vessel is confirmed to have sunk it will be the first time a major surface ship has been sunk in a military action since the sinking of the South Korean ROKS Cheonan by an alleged North Korean submarine in 2010.
Accurate casualty figures resulting from the sinking of the ship are currently unavailable, however the HSV-2 Swift operates normally with a crew of 35. While some of these may have survived, the death toll could also be higher if the ship was being used in a passenger transportation capacity.
In terms of the weapon used by pro-Houthi fighters to sink the ship, the most likely culprit is a Chinese made C-802 (鹰击-8) anti-ship missile. This missile was previously operated by the Yemeni Navy prior to the beginning of the war, and video footage released of the missile firing shows a booster stage falling away, consistent with the two-stage C-802. Notably the use of this missile does not confirm that pro-Houthi forces have received advanced weapons supplies from outside the country.