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French warship intercepts Huthis aerial attack on Norwegian tanker near Red Sea

France24 News Wires

Norwegian shipowner J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi said the overnight strike on the Strinda caused a fire that the crew, all Indian nationals, were able to extinguish and that no one was hurt.

The Huthis said the ship was carrying oil bound for Israel -- a claim denied by the owners of the 144-metre (472-foot) vessel that was sailing towards the Suez Canal.

France's defence ministry said one of its naval vessels in the area shot down a drone that had also been launched during the attack, which it described as an "attempted hijacking".

The Languedoc frigate, "which was patrolling in the area, intercepted and destroyed a drone directly threatening the Strinda," it said in a statement.

The attack was the latest in a series of drone and missile strikes launched by the rebels since the start of the Gaza war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas over two months ago.

"The naval forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces carried out a qualitative military operation against the Norwegian ship Strinda, which was loaded with oil" and bound for Israel, Huthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said.

The US military initially reported the strike, saying that a navy destroyer had heard the ship's mayday call and was giving assistance.

The attack occurred as the tanker passed through Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait between Yemen and northeast Africa leading to the Red Sea, a key route toward the Suez Canal and Israel's southern port of Eilat.

The shipowner said the vessel was neither headed toward Israel nor carrying oil, but that it was en route to "Italy from Malaysia with feedstock for biofuel" and was now "proceeding to a safe port".

The Huthis, who control much of Yemen but are not recognised internationally, are part of the Iran-backed so-called "axis of resistance" arrayed against Israel. 

They say they are defending the Palestinians from an Israeli onslaught in the Gaza Strip.

In a statement posted Saturday on social media, the Huthis said they "will prevent the passage of ships heading to the Zionist entity" if food and medicine are not allowed into besieged, Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Regardless of which flag ships sail under or the nationality of their owners or operators, Israel-bound vessels "will become a legitimate target for our armed forces," the statement said.

US and French warships patrolling the Red Sea have shot down Huthi missiles and drones several times since the militants began the attacks.

A French frigate shot down two drones over the weekend using surface-to-air missiles, a military source told AFP, asking not to be named.

The USS Mason shot down an air drone last week when the unmanned vehicle was near the ship, US officials said. Its intended target was unknown.

A British warship is also part of the effort to protect shipping.

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