March 4, 2024 | Flash Brief

Houthis Sink First Commercial Ship in Red Sea

March 4, 2024 | Flash Brief

Houthis Sink First Commercial Ship in Red Sea

Latest Developments

A commercial ship sank in the Red Sea on March 2 about two weeks after Iran-backed Houthi rebels struck it with an anti-ship ballistic missile, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said. The Belize-flagged, UK-owned bulk carrier MV Rubymar had been slowly sinking in the Bab el-Mandeb strait since February 18. The 24 crewmembers safely evacuated on February 19. Plans to tow the vessel failed. Houthi senior official Mohammed Ali al-Houthi blamed the United Kingdom for provoking the strike by supporting Israel.

The sunken ship has left behind a roughly 18-mile (29-kilometer) oil slick, and it carried approximately 21,000 tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer. As the ship was sinking, it posed a navigational risk to other vessels transiting the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. CENTCOM said the “Iran-backed Houthis pose a heightened threat to global maritime activities.”

Expert Analysis

“Those inured to Iran-backed terrorism should not miss the fact that the Houthis just sank a major commercial vessel operating in international waters. The security, economic, and environmental toll of Tehran’s terrorism is growing.” Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The environmental impact of this ship sunk by Houthi terrorist actions, as well as damage to previous ships, demonstrates our adversaries’ lack of regard for innocent civilians on these ships and the environment at large. Iran is responsible for this outrageous behavior and should be held accountable by the international organizations that claim to stand for a safe environment and freedom of the seas.”RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, FDD Senior Fellow and Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology

Houthi Strikes Continue in the Red Sea

CENTCOM continues to conduct defensive strikes against Houthi military assets. On March 1, CENTCOM forces struck one Houthi surface-to-air missile prepared to launch from Yemen toward the Red Sea. The Houthis launched an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Red Sea later that day.

The Houthis say their goal is to create a blockade of shipping to Israel and prevent the passage of what they claim are vessels linked to the Jewish state. Yet the Houthi attacks on shipping have affected more than 50 countries, said the White House on January 11. Further, “the Houthi attacks are increasing the cost of food, medicine and fuel, hurting the people who need it most, like in Yemen and Gaza,” according to a video released by the U.S. Department of State on March 2. For example, on February 12, the Houthi rebels fired two missiles toward the Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned cargo ship MV Star Iris carrying corn from Brazil. The ship’s destination was Iran.

Houthi sinking of Rubymar ship off Yemen is a blow to the West,” by Seth J. Frantzman

Houthis Target Israel and International Shipping,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. Conducts Cyberattack Against Iranian Spy Ship Helping Houthis,” FDD Flash Brief

US airstrikes on Iran-backed Houthis shows resilience,” by Seth J. Frantzman


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Military and Political Power