The Iran-backed Houthi terrorists of Yemen launched a missile at a tanker carrying Russian fuel through the Gulf of Aden on Friday, destroying Houthi claims that Russian and Chinese cargoes would not be targeted and raising anxieties across the energy industry.
Trading firm Trafigura said on Friday that a Houthi missile struck the fuel tanker Marlin Luanda, which was hauling a load of Russian naphtha, a petroleum product used in creating plastics and refining fuel.
A fire broke out in one of the cargo tanks after the missile struck, prompting the crew to break out firefighting gear. Several hours after the attack, Trafigura reported the fire had been “fully extinguished” without injuries to the crew, and the ship was “sailing towards a safe harbor.”
Another ship carrying crude oil reversed course and fled the Gulf of Aden shortly after the attack on Marlin Luanda. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) responded by destroying a Houthi anti-ship missile that was “prepared to launch” and “presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region.”
Oil prices rose one percent on Monday as traders grew concerned about the flow of oil through the Red Sea. Friday’s missile strike was the most serious Houthi attack on oil tankers to date and the first sign that Russian oil may not be safe from the Iran-supported insurgents of Yemen. The Russian oil industry was already dealing with disruptions in production and supply caused by the war with Ukraine.
A Houthi delegation visited Moscow on Thursday to meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and discuss the Red Sea security situation. The meeting concluded with Moscow joining the Houthis to “strongly condemn the missile and bomb attacks launched by the U.S. and UK” against Houthi missile sites.
A Houthi spokesman claimed Friday’s attack targeted a “British ship,” making no mention of its Russian cargo. Marlin Luanda is managed by a London-based firm called Oceonix Services Ltd. It was allowed to carry Russian fuel because the cargo was sold for less than the price cap imposed on Russian exports in late 2022 in a bid to keep the Russians from financing their attack on Ukraine with oil profits.
Tankers could begin following the lead of container ships and diverting around Africa to avoid the Red Sea and Suez Canal, but this would add ruinous shipping costs to Russian exports. Also, the alternate route takes at least two weeks longer than the Red Sea route, which would keep tankers occupied for longer and create supply issues.