Ship Sunk by Houthi Rebels Poses Environmental Crisis in the Red Sea

A ship targeted by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea in February has sunk, officials confirm. The vessel, the Rubymar, was carrying fertilizer and had also leaked fuel, raising concerns about potential ecological damage to the Red Sea’s environment, including its coral reefs. 

The Belize-flagged ship had been adrift since being hit by a Houthi missile on February 18 in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, an essential maritime passage. The sinking, confirmed by Yemen’s internationally recognized government and a regional military official, could lead to increased shipping costs and insurance rates, potentially affecting global inflation and regional aid deliveries.

The US military’s Central Command announced that the ship sank at 2:15 a.m. local time on Saturday. Yemeni rebels previously announced the ship had sunk shortly after the attack.

“The approximately 21,000 metric tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer that the vessel was carrying presents an environmental risk in the Red Sea,” the Central Command said. “As the ship sinks it also presents a subsurface impact risk to other ships transiting the busy shipping lanes of the waterway.”

Julien Jreissati, Programme Director at Greenpeace MENA, has called for immediate action, warning that the ship’s sinking could escalate into a major environmental crisis.

“Any further leaks of fuel oil from the engines, the sinking of the vessel could further breach the hull, allowing water to contact with the thousands of tonnes of fertilizer, which could then be released into the Red Sea and disrupt the balance of the marine ecosystems, triggering cascading effects throughout the food web,” Jreissati said in a statement.

“This disruption could have far-reaching consequences, affecting various species that depend on these ecosystems and, in turn, potentially impacting the very livelihoods of coastal communities. Immediate access to the shipwreck site is imperative for an expert response team to assess the situation and swiftly devise and implement an emergency plan.”

Houthi rebels have labeled the Rubymar, which is registered under the Belize flag, as a British vessel. The ship’s operators are from Lebanon and is owned by Golden Adventure Shipping, with an address in the British port of Southampton. The rebels are putting the blame on British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“You have an opportunity to salvage the ship M/V Rubymar by guaranteeing … that the relief trucks agreed upon at that time would enter Gaza,” Mohammed al-Houthi wrote on X.

Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak, the prime minister of Yemen’s internationally recognized government, has described Rubymar’s fate as “an unprecedented environmental disaster.”

“It’s a new disaster for our country and our people,” he said on X. “Every day, we pay for the Houthi militia’s adventures, which were not stopped at plunging Yemen into the coup disaster and war.”

The Rubymar is the first ship to be completely destroyed since the Iran-backed Houthi rebels began their campaign in the Red Sea on November 19, following Israel’s war on Gaza after the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7.

Information for this story was found via the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, and the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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