Yemen's Houthi rebels target ship in the Gulf of Aden as the Eisenhower aircraft carrier heads home

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels targeted a commercial ship traveling through the Gulf of Aden but apparently caused no damage, authorities said Saturday, in the latest strike on the shipping lane by the group.

The Houthi attack comes after the sinking this week of the ship Tutor, which marked what appears to be a new escalation by the Iranian-backed Houthis in their campaign of strikes on ships in the vital maritime corridor over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military ordered the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the aircraft carrier leading America's response to the Houthi attacks, to return home after a twice-extended tour.

The captain of the ship targeted late Friday saw “explosions in the vicinity of the vessel,” the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said. A later briefing by the U.S.-overseen Joint Maritime Information Center said the vessel initially reported two explosions off its port side and a third one later.

“The vessel was not hit and sustained no damage,” the center said. “The vessel and crew are reported to be safe and are proceeding to their next port of call.”

The Houthis, who have held Yemen's capital, Sanaa, since 2014, claimed the attack Saturday night. Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree, a Houthi military spokesman, identified the vessel targeted as the bulk carrier Transworld Navigator.

The U.S. military separately destroyed three drone boats in the Red Sea over the last day, Central Command said.

The Houthis have launched more than 60 attacks targeting specific vessels and fired off other missiles and drones in their campaign that has killed a total of four sailors. They have seized one vessel and sunk two since November. A U.S.-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.

In March, the Belize-flagged Rubymar carrying fertilizer became the first to sink in the Red Sea after taking on water for days following a rebel attack.

The Houthis have maintained that their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain. However, many of the ships attacked have little or no connection to the Israel-Hamas war.

The Eisenhower, based in Norfolk, Virginia, is returning home after an over eight-month deployment in combat that the Navy says is its most intense since World War II. The San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt will take the Eisenhower's place after a scheduled exercise in the Indo-Pacific, said Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder.

The Roosevelt anchored Saturday in Busan, South Korea, amid Seoul’s ongoing tensions with North Korea.

The Eisenhower had already reached the Mediterranean Sea, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ship movements. Flight-tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press showed a Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk helicopter associated with the Eisenhower flying above the Mediterranean just off the coast of Port Said, Egypt, on Saturday night.

The Eisenhower had repeatedly been targeted by false attack claims by the Houthis during its time in the Red Sea. Saree on Saturday night claimed another attack on the carrier — but again provided no evidence to support it as the ship already had left the area. Central Command called the claim “categorically false.”


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Jon Gambrell, The Associated Press