Two American-flagged ships carrying cargo for the US Defence and State departments have come under attack off Yemen, officials said.

Suspicion immediately fell on Yemen’s Houthi rebels for carrying out the assault in the Red Sea.

The attacks on container ships Maersk Detroit and Maersk Chesapeake further raise the stakes of the group’s ongoing attacks on shipping through the vital Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The US and the United Kingdom have launched multiple rounds of air strikes seeking to stop the attacks.

Meanwhile, Qatar, one of the world’s top exporters of liquified natural gas, warned that its deliveries were affected by Houthi attacks over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

United States Red Sea Houthis
An RAF Typhoon FGR4 takes off to carry out air strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen (AS1 Jake Green RAF/Ministry of Defence via AP)

Danish shipping firm Maersk said the US Navy was accompanying its ships at the time of the attacks.

“While en route, both ships reported seeing explosions close by and the US Navy accompaniment also intercepted multiple projectiles,” Maersk said. “The crew, ship, and cargo are safe and unharmed. The US Navy has turned both ships around and is escorting them back to the Gulf of Aden.”

Maersk said both vessels carried cargo belonging to the US Defence and State Departments, as well as other government agencies, meaning they were “afforded the protection of the US Navy for passage through the strait”.

The ships were operated by Maersk Line, a US subsidiary of Maersk that is “suspending transits in the region until further notice”, the company said.

The Houthis, who have been launching attacks on ships since November over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea, saying they were avenging Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, harming shipping in a key route for global trade.

The US and the UK have launched rounds of air strikes targeting suspected missile storage and launch sites used by the Houthis in their attacks. The rebels now say they will target American and British ships as well.

Meanwhile, Qatar announced its shipments of liquified natural gas had been affected by the Houthi attacks. Previous shipments had been delayed previously before heading through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

Qatar, which has served as a key mediator between Hamas and Israel, has yet to see any of its ships attacked, however.

A statement from its state-owned QatarEnergy producer said that its “production continues uninterrupted, and our commitment to ensuring the reliable supply of LNG to our customers remains unwavering”.

“While the ongoing developments in the Red Sea area may impact the scheduling of some deliveries as they take alternative routes, LNG shipments from Qatar are being managed with our valued buyers,” the statement said.

The statement suggests QatarEnergy’s cargos are traveling around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, likely adding time to their trips.