U.S. military reports 1st Houthi unmanned underwater vessel in Red Sea

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The U.S. military conducted five self-defense strikes in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen on Saturday, including one against an unmanned underwater vessel, U.S. Central Command said Sunday.

Saturday’s incident marked the first observed Houthi use of an unmanned underwater vessel since attacks in the Red Sea region started in October, CENTCOM said. 

The military on Saturday between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. local time also conducted self-defense strikes against three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles and an unmanned surface vessel. CENTCOM “determined they presented an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” the military said in a news release. “These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for U.S. Navy and merchant vessels.”

The Houthis have launched a barrage of drones and anti-ship ballistic missiles in recent months, targeting dozens of ships and disrupting a crucial international shipping corridor. When they began their attacks, the Houthis said they would only shoot at ships linked to Israel. 

On Jan. 11, the U.S. and British militaries, in conjunction with other allies, launched the first strikes in response to Houthi attacks. Several days later, the U.S. government re-designated the Houthi movement as a terrorist organization as the group stepped up attacks in the Red Sea.  

The USS Gravely
The USS Gravely patrols the Red Sea in December 2023. 

U.S. Central Command


The Red Sea, regularly used by commercial ships, is the primary route by sea between Europe and Asia. Many companies are now bypassing the area out of safety concerns.

Shipping giants, including CMA CGA, Equinor, Evergreen, Hapag-Lloyd, Maersk, Orient Overseas and ZIM, have said they plan to avoid the Red Sea while the violence persists, MoneyWatch previously reported. Energy company BP in December said it had suspended gas and oil shipments in the area. Ikea previously warned of possible shortages as shipping companies bypass the Red Sea.

U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood spoke about the issue at a UN Security Council Briefing on Yemen last week, noting that rerouting a ship around Africa adds roughly 10 days and $1 million in fuel costs for each one-way voyage between Asia and Europe.

“The Houthis are trying to apply a chokehold on global shipping through the Red Sea,” Wood said. “As a result, people around the world face increased costs for goods and supplies.”

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