Cameron talks to Iranian counterpart as Shapps condemns Houthi attacks

Lord Cameron has told Iran’s foreign minister that the country shares responsibility for preventing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea after the US said its navy sank three boats targeting a container ship.

Four boats from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen fired at the Maersk Hangzhou and got within metres of the vessel as US helicopters fired back, the US military said.

Several of the armed boat crews were killed, the US Central Command (Centcom) said. No-one was injured on the ship.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the UK Foreign Secretary said he had spoken to Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on New Year’s Eve about the attacks “which threaten innocent lives and the global economy”.

“I made clear that Iran shares responsibility for preventing these attacks given their long-standing support to the Houthis,” Lord Cameron said.

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps condemned what he described as an “outrageous” bid to disrupt global trade.

“This morning’s atrocious attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthis were an unacceptable and outrageous act designed to destabilise global trade,” he said in a post on the social media platform.

“The Houthis must end their illegal campaign against merchant shipping and stop all violent attacks immediately.”

The Singapore-flagged Maersk Hangzhou reported that it had already been hit by a missile on Saturday night while transiting the Southern Red Sea and requested assistance, Centcom said in a statement.

In another statement, Centcom said the same ship issued an additional distress call about a second attack “by four Iranian-backed Houthi small boats”.

The attackers fired small arms weapons at the Maersk Hangzhou, getting to within about 65ft (20m) of the vessel, and a contract-embarked security team on the ship returned fire, Centcom said.

US helicopters responded to the distress call and returned fire after the small boats crews opened fire on the helicopters using small arms, the statement said.

The helicopters sank three of the four boats, killing the crews, while the fourth boat fled the area, Centcom said.

No damage to US personnel or equipment was reported.

The Iran-backed Houthis have claimed attacks on ships in the Red Sea that they say are either linked to Israel or heading to Israeli ports.

They say their attacks aim to end Israel’s air and ground offensive targeting the Gaza Strip following the attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7.

On Saturday, the top commander of US naval forces in the Middle East said Houthi rebels have shown no signs of ending their “reckless” attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, even as more nations join the international maritime mission to protect vessels in the vital waterway and trade traffic begins to pick up.

A Royal Navy destroyer earlier this month joined international efforts to deter attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea.

HMS Diamond joined American and French warships in an US-led task force dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian.