Aerial view of a tanker.

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The Iran-backed Houthi militant group on Sunday damaged a ship offshore Yemen, prompting its crew to abandon the vessel in the latest escalation of maritime tensions that have disrupted key trade routes in the Red Sea.

The U.K. Maritime Trade Operations said on social media they received a report of a vessel attack in the Bab el-Mandeb strait off Yemen’s coast, adding that the crew had abandoned the ship.

“Vessel at anchor and all crew are safe,” the UKMTO said.

Houthi militants later claimed the attack, with spokesperson Yahya Sare’e identifying the vessel as general cargo ship Rubymar and describing it as British. VesselFinder and data indicate the ship sails under the flag of Belize.

Houthi forces have previously said they are targeting Israeli, British and U.S. tankers exclusively, however they have been known to carry out hostilities toward other ships.

The Rubymar was bound from Saudi port Ras al-Khair to Varna, Bulgaria, according to data.

“The ship suffered catastrophic damage and came to a complete halt,” Houthi Spokesperson Sare’e said. “As a result of the extensive damage the ship suffered, it is now at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden. During the operation, we made sure that the ship’s crew exited safely.”

CNBC was not able to independently verify the ship’s status. Global maritime risk expert Ambrey Analytics told CNBC by email that the vessel was still afloat as of roughly 8 a.m. London time.

“The partially laden vessel briefly slowed from ten to six knots and deviated course, and contacted the Djiboutian Navy, before returning to her previous course and speed,” Ambrey Analytics said in a private note to clients, adding that it received “reports ahead of the incident of at least three missiles observed in flight towards the Bab el-Mandeb.”

Mounting attacks by the Houthis, which claim to support Palestinian civilians amid Israel’s retaliatory military campaign against militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, have crippled marine traffic through the Red Sea, which accounts for roughly 12% of global maritime transit. Several shipping firms — including Danish giant Maersk —and oil companies have interrupted voyages through the Red Sea or rerouted vessels to take the longer and costlier route around the Cape of Good Hope.

Trade of crude and oil products is especially vulnerable, given the number of key producers located in the Middle East. At 11:46 a.m. London time, the Ice Brent contract with April delivery was trading at $83.15 per barrel, down by 32 cents per barrel from Friday’s settlement. The front-month March Nymex WTI contract was at $79.05, lower by 14 cents per barrel from the previous close price.

The hostilities have also prompted armed exchanges between Houthis and British and American forces, which have previously struck at Yemeni targets in a bid to improve maritime security. Sare’e said that the Houthis on Sunday also shot down a U.S. drone in Hodeidah.

The U.S. Central Command on Saturday carried out “five self-defense strikes” against three anti-ship cruise missiles, an underwater drone and a drone boat in Houthi-controlled regions of Yemen, saying the actions will “protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for U.S. Navy and merchant vessels.”

CNBC could not confirm either set of strikes.

In a separate incident, Ambrey Analytics sent an alert informing it was on Monday made aware of an unnamed Greece-flagged, U.S.-owned bulk carrier calling for military assistance amid a “missile attack,” east of Yemen’s port city of Aden. CNBC could not verify the report.

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