Cargo ship Tutor believed to have sunk in Red Sea after Houthi attack

The crew of the cargo ship Tutor get off a US Navy helicopter after being abandoning ship in the Red Sea (15 June 2024)
A US Navy helicopter rescued the Tutor's Filipino crew after last week's attack forced them to abandon ship [Reuters]

A cargo ship has sunk in the Red Sea a week after it was damaged in a deadly sea drone attack by Yemen’s Houthi movement, British maritime authorities and salvagers say.

The Tutor, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier, was hit on the stern by an explosive-filled uncrewed surface vessel (USV).

The attack killed a crew member from the Philippines who was initially reported missing, according to the US.

The Tutor is believed to be the second ship sunk by the Iran-backed Houthis since they began attacking merchant vessels in the region in November. It was also the second fatal attack over the same period.

The Houthis, who control much of north-western Yemen, say their attacks are a show of support for the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They have claimed - often falsely - that they are targeting ships only linked to Israel, the US or the UK.

US and European warships have been deployed to the critical waterway since December as part of an international task force to protect commercial shipping in the crucial waterway.

The US and UK have also carried out air and missile strikes on what they say are Houthi military targets in Yemen since January, but so far the Houthis have not been deterred.

The Tutor had reportedly just completed a port call in Russia and was bound for Egypt when it was hit by a USV last Wednesday, about 66 nautical miles (122km) south-west of the Houthi-controlled Yemeni port of Hudaydah.

The cargo ship started slowly taking on water after the attack, which the US military’s Central Command said resulted in severe flooding and damage to the engine room.

One member of the 22-strong Filipino crew believed to have been working in the engine room was reported missing, while the rest of the crew abandoned ship and were rescued by a US Navy helicopter and warship.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea claimed at the time that the Tutor was “destroyed” following an attack by “a drone boat and a number of ballistic missiles and drones", which he said was "dedicated to the mujahideen in Gaza".

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday that the missing crew member was killed, although there has been no confirmation from the Philippines government.

On Tuesday evening, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) centre said the Tutor was believed to have sunk because military authorities had seen maritime debris and oil in the last reported location of the Tutor.

Tsavliris Salvage Group also told Reuters news agency on Wednesday that the Tutor had sunk. Andreas Tsavliris, one of the Greece-based company’s owners, said two salvage vessels had abandoned a mission to recover the ship after being informed.

The ship’s manager, Evalend Shipping, has not commented on the reports.

In early March, the Belize-flagged, Lebanese cargo ship Rubymar sunk two weeks after being hit by two Houthi missiles.

A Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned bulk cargo carrier en route to Italy, the Verbena, was also seriously damaged when it was struck by two anti-ship cruise missiles fired from Houthi-controlled Yemen while sailing in the Gulf of Aden last Thursday.

Central Command said the resulting explosions sparked fires on board and that seriously injured a crew member from Sri Lanka had to be medically evacuated by the US Navy.

The Houthis also confirmed they had attacked the Verbena with missiles and claimed it had sunk, without providing any evidence.

On Saturday, the Verbena’s remaining crew issued a distress call saying they were abandoning ship because they were unable to bring the fires under control.

They were rescued by another cargo ship which was in the area and transported to safety. Central Command said an Iranian warship in the vicinity "did not respond to the distress call".

The Verbena is now reportedly drifting and vulnerable to sinking or another attack.

"We utterly condemn these assaults which directly contravene the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation,” the world's top shipping associations said a joint statement on Wednesday.

“Our thoughts and condolences go to the family and loved ones of the seafarer who tragically lost their life. It is deplorable that innocent seafarers are being attacked while simply performing their jobs, vital jobs which keep the world warm, fed, and clothed,” they added.

They also called on states with influence in the region to “safeguard our innocent seafarers and for the swift de-escalation of the situation in the Red Sea”.