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Two killed in Houthi attack on freighter

At least two sailors have been killed in a Houthi attack on freighter True Confidence in the Gulf of Aden, a US official has confirmed.

They are the first fatalities reported since the Iran-aligned Yemeni group began a campaign of strikes against shipping the area.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, which set the Greek-owned, Barbados-flagged ship True Confidence ablaze around 50 nautical miles off the coast of Yemen’s port of Aden.

The Greek operator of the True Confidence had said earlier that no information was available about the status of 20 crew and three armed guards on board, who included 15 Filipinos, four Vietnamese, two Sri Lankans, an Indian and a Nepali national.

Yemen’s Houthis issued a statement claiming responsibility.

A shipping source, who declined to be identified, said the Barbados-flagged vessel appeared to have been abandoned, with three people missing and four badly burned.

A US defence official said smoke was seen coming from the True Confidence.

The official, who also declined to be identified, told Reuters a lifeboat had been seen in the water near the ship.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said it had received a report of an incident 54 nautical miles southwest of Aden, which lies near the entrance to the Red Sea, adding that the vessel had been abandoned by the crew and was “no longer under command”.

“Coalition forces are supporting the vessel and the crew,” UKMTO said.

Houthi militants in Yemen have repeatedly launched drones and missiles against international commercial shipping since mid-November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians to oppose Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

A number of ships have been damaged in such strikes. Four days ago, the Rubymar, a UK-owned bulk carrier, became the first ship to sink as a result of a Houthi attack, after floating for two weeks with severe damage from a missile strike. All crew were safely evacuated from that vessel.

The US and Britain have launched retaliatory strikes against the Houthis intended to protect shipping, and severe injuries or fatalities among merchant crew could lead to calls for stronger action.

The Houthi attacks have disrupted global shipping, forcing firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa.

The cost of insuring a seven-day voyage through the Red Sea has risen by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While the militia has said it would attack vessels with links to the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel, shipping industry sources say all ships could be at risk.

The True Confidence is owned by the Liberian-registered company True Confidence Shipping and operated by the Greece-based Third January Maritime, both firms said in their joint statement. They said the ship had no link to the United States.

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