Naval Mines Threaten International Shipping Lanes in Red Sea

Sheba Intelligence | 2023-12-06 02:44 PM UTC


Sea mines pose a severe danger to international navigation, trade lines, and global oil supplies, in addition to being an existential threat to the lives of fishermen and the Yemeni population who inhabit the Yemeni islands in the Red Sea.


The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group used mines as a vital tool in its wars, whether at sea or on land. According to the Yemeni government, the mines amounted to more than one million, a statistic that is the largest since World War II.


In Yemeni territorial waters, the Houthi group planted sea mines along the coasts of the Red Sea, especially off the shores of the Midi port, populated islands, fishing spots, and near the international shipping line in the Red Sea, west of Buklan Island, which belongs to the Midi District in Hajjah province.


A naval mine is a device that explodes automatically and is placed in the waters of the seas and oceans to destroy or cause damage to ships or submarines. Such mines are used to paralyze the movement of ships, cause them damage, or direct them towards a specific port in the event of hijacking or piracy.


With the support of foreign experts, the Houthis have intensified the planting of sea mines since the start of Arab coalition operations in March 2015. They planted phony mines randomly on vast areas of the sea, using boats and naval vessels. The group not only turned Yemeni territorial waters into a network of mines. The group conducted cross-border operations and targeted Saudi ports with suicide drone boats.


With the start of Houthi naval operations against Israeli ships in international shipping lanes in the Red Sea, this investigative report monitors the capabilities and operations of the Houthis that threaten international shipping lanes.


Types of sea mines used by the Houthis:


1-Guided interceptor mines, which are advanced, weigh 42 kilograms and are highly explosive. Limited numbers have been discovered so far on the western coast of Yemen, and it has been shown that they are of Iranian origin, such as Sadaf and Qaa.


2- Floating mines (primitively made) are in the form of household gas cylinders and contain highly explosive materials of various sizes, the largest of which weighs 70 kilograms and their danger remains for at least a decade. Previous international reports have documented this type of mine, which has two or four explosive heads capable of penetrating "5 centimeters" of the steel of any ship. These primitive mines also have defects that make them not anchored in one place, and they can remain floating in the sea for several years, which makes them pose a significant danger to maritime telecommunications lines, international navigation, and ships and fishing boats.


Discovering Houthi deployment of sea mines


-On March 25, 2017, the Yemeni naval forces discovered a sea mine planted by Houthis near the coast of Midi, northwest of Yemen.

-The UN Panel of Experts stated in its 2017 report that it investigated three sea mines found in the port of Mocha, indicating that they match in shape and size to the Iranian-made Al-Qaa sea mines, which were spotted for the first time at an Iranian arms exhibition in October 2015.

- In October 2018, the Houthi group released a documentary revealing its possession of a sea mine called the "Fire-filled Sea". The documentary showed some of its members in the "military manufacturing units" as they produced "Marsad" sea mines.


-In March 2021, the Houthis displayed a large number of sea mines, including 11 shapes, which they called: "Karar 1 - Karar 2 - Karar 3 - Asif 2 - Asif 3 - Asif 4 - Shawadh - Thaqib - Awais - Mujahid - Al-Naziat." Thus, it possessed 12 shapes and types of sea mines besides "Marsad."


- On September 23, 2023, the Houthis displayed eight types of sea mines and called them Saqib, Karar, Mujahid 1 and 2, Awais, Masjoor 1 and 2, and Asif.

On November 17, 2023, the Houthis announced that they possessed sea mines of the Masjoor, Thaqib, Karar,  and Mujahi types.


The presence of Iranian naval mines in Yemen

-Three Iranian naval mines of the "Qaa" type were found in the port of Mocha in 2017. Such mines were displayed for the first time at an Iranian arms exhibition in October 2015,  according to the report of the United Nations Panel of Experts.


- In March 2021, the Arab coalition announced the dismantling of a mine of Sadaf (Iranian) mines deployed by the Houthi group in the international shipping lane in the Red Sea.


- In June 2021, the engineering team of the joint forces deployed on the West Coast announced that they had found a network of sea mines that had been fixed to the seabed with special cables. The team added that this network "bears the fingerprints of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Lebanese Hezbollah experts."


- In 2022, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights in Yemen, Nabil Abdel Hafiz, said that "the sea mines used by the Houthis came with the support and training of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard." He indicated that the Revolutionary Guard also provided the Houthis with sea mines manufactured in Iran.

The threat of sea mines to navigation in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab


-The mobile naval mines planted by the Houthis off the coast of Al-Hudaydah, Midi, and some Yemeni islands caused material damage to the fishermen, whether directly affecting their boats or hindering their movement to in the sea in addition to causing damage to some international cargo ships, the most important of which are the following:


-In 2018, local reports confirmed that the Houthis deployed a network of sea mines and explosive torpedoes around the populated Kamaran Island in Al-Hudaydah province, where one of them exploded on a fishing boat, killing 4 Yemeni fishermen. Likewise, the Houthis deployed mines around the Safer oil ship floating in the Red Sea before offloading its oil to another ship in 2023.


-In 2018, a field source announced that the naval force of the Fifth Military District affiliated with the Yemeni army found a sea mine planted by the Houthis near the international lane west of Buklan Island in the Red Sea of Hajjah province, northwest of Yemen. It was dealt with and detonated after being transported to Khor Midi in Hajjah province with the help of experts from the Arab Coalition.


-The Panel of Eminent Experts on Yemen indicated, in a 2018 report, that "the level of threat to maritime security in the Red Sea is very high." The report indicated that the threat to commercial maritime transport has increased with the "Houthis' use of increasingly sophisticated weapons systems". The Panel of Experts added that the Houthi group has increased "the deployment of mines against both civilian and military ships operating in the Red Sea."


-From July 2018 until January 2019, mobile sea mines deployed by the Houthis off the coast of Al-Hudaydah killed at least 13 fishermen, according to data from the ACLED program project, which specializes in collecting data on conflict zones around the world.

-In February 2020, the Arab Coalition announced the killing of three Egyptian fishermen and the wounding of three others due to the explosion of a Houthi naval mine.

- On April 20, 2020, a Yemeni fisherman named Wahib Muhammad Hassan was killed by a sea mine explosion while he was going to fish on the Al-Tur coast in the Bayt Al-Faqih District, south of Al-Hudaydah.


-On December 4, 2020, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said that a ship belonging to it was subjected to an attack off the coast of Yemen, and it did not clarify the nature of the attack nor the party behind it. However, it was later revealed that the Houthis were behind it.


-On December 14, 2020, the Hafnia Shipping Company announced that the oil tanker it operates, "PW Rayne," was attacked by an external source off the port of Jeddah. It was later revealed that the Houthis were behind it.

On December 25, 2020, one of these mines collided with a commercial cargo ship in the southern waters of the Red Sea, resulting in damage to its bow without human losses.


- In late December 2021, coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said that the Houthis "threaten maritime navigation with more than 247 naval mines," presenting evidence that he said proves the involvement of the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah in providing field support to the Houthis to target Saudi Arabia and threaten international navigation.


-From the beginning of Operation Decisive Storm 2015 until the beginning of 2022, 22 ships belonging to five nationalities (Saudi, Emirati, Turkish, Greek, and Marshall Islands) were attacked by the Houthi group with missiles, booby-trapped boats, and mines while sailing in the Red Sea.


-In 2022, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Human Rights in Yemen, Nabil Abdel Hafiz, said that "the sea mines planted by the Houthis "killed more than 100 fishermen," pointing out that the number could be higher "if there were accurate documentation."


Dismantling naval mines

-In 2020, the naval forces in the Fifth Military Region of the Yemeni government army announced that they had destroyed more than 52 naval mines deployed by the Houthis in the territorial waters off the coast of Hajjah province.


-On November 24, 2020, the Arab coalition announced that it was able to discover and destroy 163 sea mines randomly planted by the Houthis in the Red Sea since the start of the war.


-On November 25, 2020, military sources in the Yemeni army reported to Independent Arabia that their forces had seized 16 sea mines planted by the Houthi group in the Red Sea.


- In January 2021, the naval forces of the Fifth Military District of the Yemeni army announced that they had found 8 naval mines and destroyed 5 of them that the Houthis had deployed in Yemeni territorial waters.


-In April 2021, the National Resistance forces found 22 sea mines, dismantling and detonating them.

-In March 2021, the Arab coalition announced the dismantling and neutralization of 200 Iranian Sadaf-type sea mines in the shipping lane.


-In mid-2021, the joint forces on the west coast were able to uncover a network of naval mines planted by the Houthis south of Greater Hanish Island (off the coast of Al-Khawkhah), explaining that the mines were attached to a detonator at a distance of 450 meters from the coast.


-The number of Houthi mines that the Arab Coalition dismantled reached about 205 by the end of May 2021.

On November 19, 2021, the coalition announced in a statement published by the Saudi SPA that it had destroyed 220 sea mines.


- In a report issued on May 30, 2022, Al-Ain News website revealed that a primitive sea mine planted by the Houthis recently separated from its rope and was moved by the wind to another location. The mine appeared on one of Al-Hudaydah beaches.


- As of June 2023, Yemeni naval engineering teams found and destroyed  3,452 sea mines on the beaches and around several Yemeni islands in the Red Sea.




Naval mines owned by the Houthi group


1- Marsad






3- Alnaziat










7- Karar 1, 2 and 3




8- Asif 1, 2, 3 and 4