Houthis Strike Chinese Tanker With Ballistic Missile Despite Their Agreement With China

Despite an agreement with China to give safe passage to all Chinese shipping in the Red Sea, the Houthis struck a Chinese ship with a ballistic missile on Saturday.

From 2:50 to 4:30 a.m. (Sanaa time) March 23, the Iranian-backed Houthis launched four anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) into the Red Sea in the vicinity of M/V Huang Pu, a Panamanian-flagged, Chinese-owned, Chinese-operated oil tanker.
At 4:25 p.m. (Sanaa time), a fifth ballistic missile was detected as fired toward M/V Huang Pu. The ship issued a distress call but did not request assistance. M/V Huang Pu suffered minimal damage, and a fire on board was extinguished within 30 minutes. No casualties were reported, and the vessel resumed its course. The Houthis attacked the M/V Huang despite previously stating they would not attack Chinese vessels.

Earlier today, my colleague Jeff Charles posted on an agreement inked days ago between the Houthis and the partnership of Russia and China to guarantee the safe passage of Russian and Chinese ships through the Red Sea.

BACKGROUND: The Houthis Just Made an Arrangement With China and Russia That May Reshape Security in the Red Sea

So what happened?

The underlying problem is that the Houthis lack the intelligence to identify which ships are which. In the case of the M/V Huang Pu, it was British-owned until September 2023.

Until late September 2023, the ship was registered with UK-based Union Maritime under the name of Anavatos II. As TradeWinds reported at the time, it was sold to undisclosed owners.
According to shipping data banks, the ship emerged in January as Taurus II under management of Hong Kong-based Ambra Ltd.
It is only since February that the ship is trading under its current name of Huang Pu under the management of another Hong Kong-based entity called Hera Gam Ltd.

Without access to accurate ship registration data, the Houthis can’t keep their end of the bargain. As an aside, their agreement with the Russians is virtually nonsense. The Russian fleet is mostly under sanctions. Most Russian oil products are transferred to Greek-owned ships, which the Houthis consider fair game.

In addition to the information problem, the Houthis have a target acquisition problem. They rely heavily on AIS data, which can be edited by the ship or just turned off. The presence of US and allied warships makes it difficult for the Houthis to use surveillance drones. When ships enter the Gulf of Aden, they are shadowed by Iranian spy ships like the Behshad. These provide the Houthis with targeting information.

BACKGROUND: Houthis Launch Largest Attack So Far Targeting American-Flagged Merchant Ships With American Sailors 

This incident reveals that the agreement between the Houthis, Chinese, and Russians is more of a public relations exercise than anything likely to affect Houthi attacks in the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden.

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