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Battle Damage Assessment: M/V Tutor

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A Houthi explosive unmanned surface vessel (USV) attacked the Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier “Tutor” near Al Hudaydah, Yemen, on June 12, resulting in heavy damage and reportedly killing one crew member.

The vessel was later abandoned by the crew, who were evacuated by American and French naval forces.

The UKMTO reported that the vessel is believed to have sank off the coast of Eritrea on June 18.

What You Need to Know

The Incident:

On June 12, the Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier “Tutor” sustained heavy damage and began flooding after a Houthi USV struck the stern of the vessel.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) initially reported that a commercial vessel was hit by “a small craft,” resulting in the crew losing command of the vessel (meaning it lost the ability to maneuver) as it began taking on water.

Recently released footage shows the crew and armed guards watching the USV as it approached the vessel. The detonation was not caught on camera as the crew ran into the bridge and the footage cut off.

Following the initial strike by the USV, the master of the vessel reported that a secondary projectile struck the vessel, causing further damage.

At least one crew member is missing and presumed dead.

The Details

Houthi Statement:

In a statement, military spokesman Yahya Saree confirmed that Houthi forces carried out an operation targeting the “Tutor,” causing significant damage.

“The naval, missile, and UAVs forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces carried out a specific military operation targeting the ship (TUTOR) in the Red Sea, using an unmanned surface boat, several drones, and ballistic missiles. The operation led to the ship being seriously damaged, vulnerable to sinking, thanks to Allah.”

“The ship was targeted because the company that owns the ship has violated the decision to ban entry into the ports of occupied Palestine [Israel],” he added.

As in previous statements, Saree emphasized that attacks will continue “until the aggression stops and the siege on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip is lifted.”

CENTCOM Statement:

Following the attack, the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed that “one Iranian-backed Houthi unmanned surface vessel (USV) struck M/V Tutor, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated vessel, in the Red Sea. M/V Tutor most recently docked in Russia. The impact of the USV caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room.”

On June 14, CENTCOM provided an update and reported that “The crew abandoned ship and were rescued by USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) and partner forces. M/V Tutor remains in the Red Sea and is slowly taking on water.”

“This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Houthis claim to be acting on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza, yet they are targeting and threatening the lives of third-country nationals who have nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza. The ongoing threat to international commerce caused by the Houthis makes it harder to deliver badly needed assistance to the people of Yemen as well as Gaza,” CENTCOM added.

French Statement:

France’s Indian Ocean Maritime Zone Command (ALINDIEN) also reported that “A French air defense frigate reached the scene of the disaster and deployed its helicopter to contribute, in coordination with a ship from the US Navy, to the evacuation of the crew members, now safe and sound. France permanently commits resources in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in order to contribute to maritime security, freedom of navigation, the protection of human life and to enforce international law.”

Damage and Casualties:

Initial images of the vessel show that it is trimming towards the stern due to taking on water from the impact of the USV.

The impact punctured a hole in the hull, completely flooding the engine room and other compartments in the vessel’s stern. The loss of the engine room due to flooding is why the vessel lost its ability to maneuver (i.e. propulsion and steering).

As stated, at least one crew member is missing and presumed dead. Their body is believed to be located in flooded areas of the engine room.

Despite Philippine Migrant Workers Minister Hans Leo Cacdac telling reporters that the vessel was not sinking amid salvage operations to tow it back to port, the UKMTO reported on June 18 that the vessel is believed to have sank off the coast of Eritrea.

“Military authorities report maritime debris and oil sighted in the last reported location. The vessel is believed to have sunk in position 14’19’N 041’14’E,” UKMTO reported.

This marks the second commercial vessel to be sunk by Houthi forces since attacks began, with the first being the M/V Rubymar back in March.

Conclusion

This attack marks the first successful Houthi USV strike against a vessel since attacks against commercial vessels in the region began last October, further highlighting the tactic’s effectiveness, which has also been seen in Ukraine.

Many may question why the guards did not open fire on the USV as it approached the Tutor. While we cannot fully know what the crew was thinking, one can assume they did not fully understand the threat presented by the USV, which looked like a fishing skiff. With this being the first successful strike, the crew likely did not know how a USV attack would present itself.

The success of this strike will likely embolden the Houthis to carry out more attacks using USVs. The Houthis have demonstrated their capability and willingness to continuously target vessels that have violated their declared policies, such as docking at Israeli ports. Despite persistent strike operations against the Houthis by a United States-led maritime coalition, the Houthis are still able to conduct routine attacks against commercial shipping vessels in the region.

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