DUBAI/LONDON: Attacks from Houthi-controlled Yemen struck two Liberian-flagged ships in the Bab al-Mandab Strait on Friday, a US defence official said, underlining the threat to vessels in shipping lanes being targeted by the Iran-aligned group.

Danish shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk said it would pause all container shipments through the Red Sea until further notice. German container line Hapag Lloyd said it was considering a similar move.

A projectile, believed to be a drone, struck one of the Liberian-flagged vessels, the German-owned Al Jasrah, causing a fire but no injuries, the US official said.

Two ballistic missiles were fired in the second attack, one of which struck a vessel, causing a fire which the crew was working to extinguish, the official said.

A US Navy destroyer was on its way to aid the vessel, the official said, without naming the vessel.

The Houthis said in a statement that they had fired missiles at two ships - the MSC Alanya and MSC Palatium III. Their statement made no mention of Al Jasrah.

An MSC spokesperson said there had been no attack on the Alanya. Asked about the Houthi claim of an attack on the Palatium III, the spokesperson provided no further comment.

The Houthis said both vessels had been heading to Israel.

However, Alanya and Palatium III both listed Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as their destination, according to data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic.

“We will continue to prevent all ships heading to Israeli ports until the food and medicine our people need in the Gaza Strip is brought in,” the Houthi statement said.

“We assure all ships heading to all ports of the world apart from Israeli ports that they will suffer no harm and they must keep their identification device on,” it said.

Part of the Iran-aligned “Axis of Resistance”, the Houthis have been attacking vessels in Red Sea shipping lanes and firing drones and missiles at Israel, saying they aim to support the Palestinians as Hamas and Israel wage war. The Houthis, who rule much of Yemen, have vowed they will continue with their attacks until Israel stops its offensive in the Gaza Strip

A spokesperson for Hapag-Lloyd, the company that owns Al Jasrah, said it was attacked while sailing near the Yemeni coast. “Hapag-Lloyd will take additional measures to secure the safety of our crews,” the spokesperson added, declining further comment.

British maritime security firm Ambrey said the Liberia-flagged container ship MSC Alanya was ordered to alter course towards Yemen by people aboard a small craft believed to be members of Yemen’s Houthi movement, forcing it take evasive measures.

Ambrey said the MSC Alanya was warned by the Houthis not to proceed northbound, and quoted them addressing the crew: “Captain you are not allowed to proceed to the Red Sea. Alter your course to the south side, now”.

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