Houthis attack four ships in Indian Ocean, Red Sea

Protestors rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Sanaa

By Nayera Abdallah and Enas Alashray

DUBAI/CAIRO (Reuters) -Yemen's Houthis said on Tuesday they targeted the MSC Orion container ship in a drone attack in the Indian Ocean as part of their ongoing campaign against international shipping in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel's military actions in Gaza.

MSC Orion was sailing between the ports in Sines, Portugal and Salalah, Oman, according to LSEG data.

Reuters found conflicting information about the registered owner of the MSC Orion. According to LSEG and other data providers, the ship is owned by Zodiac Maritime, which is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

A spokesman for the public relations firm representing Zodiac Maritime, however, said the company has never owned the vessel.

Iran-aligned Houthi militants have launched repeated drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandab Strait and Gulf of Aden since November, forcing shippers to re-route cargo to longer and more expensive journeys around Southern Africa and stoking fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread and destabilise the Middle East.

In March, the group's leader said the group was expanding its attack area to prevent Israel-linked ships from passing through the Indian Ocean toward the Cape of Good Hope.

The Iran-affiliated group also targeted the Cyclades commercial vessel as well as two U.S. destroyers in the Red Sea, its spokesman said in a televised address early on Tuesday.

British maritime security firm Ambrey reported earlier that a Malta-flagged container ship on Monday said it was targeted by three missiles while en route from Djibouti to the Saudi city of Jeddah. The Houthis said the Cyclades was on that route when they attacked the vessel.

Ambrey assessed that the ship was targeted due to its listed operator's ongoing trade with Israel, it said in an advisory note.

The United States and Britain have carried out strikes against Houthi targets in retaliation for their attacks on vessels.

(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Jana Choukeir in Dubai, Enas Alashray in Cairo and Lisa Baertlein in Los AngelesEditing by Michael Georgy, Toby Chopra and Matthew Lewis)