Houthi-struck cargo ship oil spill sparks environmental crisis fears

A Houthi attack leaves Rubymar adrift, leaking oil in the Gulf of Aden, says U.S. Central Command. Risk of cargo spillage; plans to tow it to Djibouti. Houthis targeted ships since November, supporting Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas conflict, causing the Suez Canal traffic to decline.

A cargo vessel left adrift in the Gulf of Aden following an attack by Houthis, backed by Iran, is now leaking oil, posing an escalating environmental threat, warned U.S. Central Command on Friday. The Rubymar, flying the Belize flag, registered in Britain, and operated by Lebanon, was carrying flammable fertilizer when it was struck by a missile on Sunday, as claimed by the Yemeni rebels. The crew was safely evacuated to Djibouti after the attack caused water ingress into the engine room and damage to the stern, according to the vessel’s operator, Blue Fleet Group.


According to Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury, a second missile struck the vessel’s deck without inflicting significant damage, as reported by AFP. CENTCOM confirmed that the ship is currently anchored but is gradually accumulating water. Additionally, it has left behind an 18-mile oil slick.

In a statement on X, previously known as Twitter, it was mentioned that the M/V Rubymar, carrying more than 41,000 tons of fertilizer, faced the risk of spilling its cargo into the Red Sea, exacerbating the environmental crisis. The ship’s operator indicated on Thursday that there were plans to tow the vessel to Djibouti within the week.


Khoury confirmed that the ship remained buoyant and provided an image taken on Wednesday depicting its stern submerged in the water. When asked about the potential sinking of the Rubymar, Khoury stated that while there was currently no immediate risk, there remained a possibility. The attack on the Rubymar marks the most substantial damage inflicted on a commercial vessel since the Houthis began targeting ships in November. They claim this campaign is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas conflict sparked by the terror group’s actions on October 7.


The Houthis have also launched ballistic missiles and drones at the southern Israeli city of Eilat. These attacks have led some shipping companies to reroute around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which typically handles about 12 per cent of global maritime trade. The UN Conference on Trade and Development recently warned that commercial traffic through the Suez Canal had dropped by over 40 per cent in the past two months.