Ship abandoned in Red Sea faces unknown fate – sources

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 9:38 AM

By Jonathan Saul

LONDON (Reuters) – A cargo ship abandoned four days ago in the Gulf of Aden after it was hit by missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthis is still floating despite taking in water, and could be towed to nearby Djibouti, industry sources said on Wednesday.

Shipping risks have escalated due to repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait by the Iran-aligned Houthis since November. U.S. and British forces have responded with several strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

The crew of the Belize-flagged Rubymar abandoned the vessel after it was hit on Sunday, and were rescued by another commercial ship.

The vessel was taking in water and its operators were exploring options, the vessel’s maritime security company LSS-SAPU told Reuters on Monday. The vessel’s UK registered company and Lebanese based ship manager could not be located for further comment on Wednesday.

A maritime advisory warned ships in the area to avoid the abandoned vessel.

A U.S. defense official said on Tuesday that the vessel had not sunk.

Two shipping and insurance sources said towing the vessel to Djibouti appeared to be the best course of action.

“Djibouti is the only immediate option where some repairs or recovery would be feasible,” one of the sources said. “It is too risky for a ship in that condition to be towed too far or in more open waters.”

The vessel last reported its position over two days ago, and was headed to the Bulgarian port of Varna, according to data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic.

Insurance sources said they could not determine who had insured the vessel, which appeared not to be covered through the London marine insurance market.

A Djibouti port spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Djibouti Ports & Free Zones Authority said on Feb 19 in a statement on X that its Port Authority completed the safe repatriation of the Rubymar’s 24 crew members – 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indian nationals, and four Filipinos – who were brought to the Djibouti area by the rescue vessel.

“The vessel has on board 21,999 MT (metric tonnes) of fertilizer IMDG class 5.1, very dangerous,” the Authority said, adding the ship’s AIS transponder was switched off and it did not know the coordinates of the vessel.

Despite retaliatory Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue striking ships they say are linked to Israel, in solidarity with Palestinians until Israeli forces stop their war in the Gaza Strip.

So far, no ships attacked have been sunk or any crew killed but there are growing safety fears.

The UKMTO British navy agency said on Tuesday it had received reports of an explosion and a flash sighted in the southern Red Sea 40 nautical miles west of the Yemen’s northern Hodeidah port, which is located in an area controlled by the Houthis.

“Vessels and crew in the vicinity are reported safe,” UKMTO said. “Vessels are advised to transit with caution.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Saul; Additional reporting by Aaron Ross in Nairobi; Editing by Peter Graff)