The US says three commercial ships have been attacked by missiles in the Red Sea – with one of its destroyers shooting down armed drones as it went to help.
The Bahamas-flagged Unity Explorer, owned by a British company, was one of the vessels targeted in the drone and missile assault on Sunday and suffered minor damage, US military Central Command said.
The attacks happened near Yemen and Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility, saying they would stop Israeli-linked ships passing while the war in Gaza is ongoing.
Israel said the ships are not connected to the country.
It potentially marks a major escalation in a series of maritime attacks linked to the Israel-Hamas war.
US Central Command said the attacks had been “fully enabled by Iran”, adding that the US would “consider all appropriate responses”.
“These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security,” it said in a statement.
“They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world.
“We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran.”
US Central Command said all the ships attacked were in international waters and that the USS Carney went to help after receiving distress calls and shot down three drones.
The first attack was at about 9.15am local time, when Carney detected a missile fired from Yemen towards the cargo ship M/V Unity Explorer.
The missile landed “in the vicinity of the vessel”, according to the US, which said the ship is “UK-owned and operated” and has crew from two countries – which it didn’t name.
At about 12pm, the American ship shot down a drone – again launched from Houthi areas of Yemen. The US said it was headed towards Carney but that its final target was unclear.
“We cannot assess at this time whether the Carney was a target of the UAVs,” said US Central Command.