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Houthis defy warning from NZ and allies on Red Sea attacks

Author
Alex Spence,
Publish Date
Fri, 5 Jan 2024, 1:40pm
The USS Carney, one of the American warships that has been patrolling against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Photo / AP
The USS Carney, one of the American warships that has been patrolling against Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. Photo / AP

Houthis defy warning from NZ and allies on Red Sea attacks

Author
Alex Spence,
Publish Date
Fri, 5 Jan 2024, 1:40pm

Houthi militants have defied warnings from New Zealand and 13 other governments for an immediate end to attacks on ships in the Red Sea, attempting a new strike that came close to hitting US Navy and commercial vessels.

The Yemen-based rebels detonated an unmanned surface vessel, or USV, within hours of a joint statement by New Zealand and other governments including those of the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom condemning a series of recent attacks and seizures in one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.

The detonation by the Iran-backed militia group did not damage any ships, but will escalate tensions that have threatened security in an area that accounts for about 15 per cent of the global shipping trade – including vital supplies of oil, grain, and natural gas – and added to wider instability in the Middle East.

In the joint statement, New Zealand and its allies described the attacks on at least 25 vessels transiting the Red Sea in recent weeks as “illegal, unacceptable and profoundly destabilising” and threatened military action if they do not stop.

“Let our message now be clear: we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews,” the countries said. “The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.”

The latest attack came as Foreign Minister Winston Peters spoke by phone to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken today.

According to a post on X, the social media network formerly known as Twitter, by Peter’s official account maintained by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, they discussed the importance of the strategic partnership between the US and NZ, “strengthening co-operation to address regional and global challenges” and the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

Earlier, Peters had posted that New Zealand “stands with its partners in condemning the Houthis’ ongoing illegal, unacceptable and destabilising attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea”.

The Houthi attacks have stoked fears that Israel’s war with Hamas could engulf the Middle East in a broader conflict.

Those concerns were heightened this week when a missile strike in Beirut killed a senior Hamas leader and bombings in Iran, for which Islamic State has claimed responsibility, killed at least 84 people.

In the past few months, the Houthis have launched dozens of drones and missiles at vessels transiting the Red Sea. In response, the US and its allies have stepped up naval patrols and other military activity in the area. The US, UK and France are providing most of the warships but Greece and Denmark are also providing vessels.

Houthi officials have said they are targeting ships linked to Israel in response to the conflict in Gaza, but the governments in the joint statement accused the rebels of attacking civilian vessels.

The attacks forced some shipping and oil companies to reroute vessels around the Cape of Good Hope, adding “significant cost and weeks of delay to the delivery of goods”, the governments said.

The joint statement was issued by the governments of Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the US.

It was described by American officials as a final warning. “We remain committed to the international rules-based order and are determined to hold malign actors accountable for unlawful seizures and attacks,” it said.

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