Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis fired two missiles on Monday at an Iran-bound cargo ship in the Red Sea, causing minor damage to the vessel but no injuries, U.S. military officials said.
The early morning strikes appeared to be the first time the Houthis have targeted an Iran-bound vessel since starting attacks on international shipping in solidarity with Palestinians over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, shipping sources said.
"Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired two missiles from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Bab al-Mandeb," U.S Central Command said on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.
"Both missiles were launched toward MV Star Iris, a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel transiting the Red Sea carrying corn from Brazil."
"The ship reports being seaworthy with minor damage and no injuries to the crew," CENTCOM officials said on X. "Of note, the MV Star Iris’s destination is Bandar Iman Khomeini, Iran."
The Houthis military spokesman, Yahya Saree, said in a televised statement the ship was American, but maritime-shipping trackers said the Marshall Islands-flagged ship was Greek-owned.
The Star Iris had been transporting a corn cargo from Brazil to Iran, according to CENTCOM and ship tracking analysis from data and analytics group Kpler.
"The Star Iris, like every Iran-bound bulker, had not diverted away from the Red Sea, perhaps unafraid of attacks from Iran-backed Houthis who could be considered 'friendly' given the vessel's destination," said Ishan Bhanu, lead agricultural commodities analyst at Kpler.
"At a projected 4.5 million tonnes for this year, flows from Brazil make for the majority of Iran's corn imports."
A regional security official said the attack appeared designed to "show Iran does not control the Houthis and they act independently," and that the Houthis had informed Tehran in advance.
Houthi militants in Yemen, who control the country's most populous regions, have repeatedly fired on international commercial ships since mid-November. Their targets have been vessels with commercial ties to the United States, Britain or Israel, shipping and insurance sources say.
The attacks have prompted several companies to halt Red Sea journeys and opt for a longer and more expensive route around Africa, and U.S. and British warplanes have carried out retaliatory strikes across Yemen.
The Star Iris, a large panamax bulk carrier, is managed by Athens-headquartered and U.S. NASDAQ-listed Star Bulk Carriers.
A Star Bulk spokesperson referred questions to the U.S-led coalition tasked with containing such attacks.
Iranian officials did not respond to a request for comment. Iran's food commodities trade is exempt from U.S. sanctions.
British maritime security firm Ambrey said the Star Iris had reportedly suffered damage to its starboard side after sighting a projectile near the vessel 43 kilometers northeast of Djibouti's Khor Angar and 74 kilometers southwest of Yemen's Red Sea port city of Mokha.
Ambrey said the bulker was reportedly headed to Bandar Imam Khomeini, one of Iran's biggest ports and a major grains terminal. UKMTO said the crew was unharmed and the vessel was proceeding to its next port of call.