The M/T Pollux has been hit by a Houthi missile. Reuters is referencing Ambery Risk in their article. We do not know what role Ambery Risk played in this, but some ships are using armed professionals to protect their ships and that is the sort of service Ambery Risk provides.

The attack is quoted as taking place 72 nautical miles northwest of the port of Mokha, off Yemen. This is not really accurate enough to say what waters the attack occurred in, but it is not far from the Hanish Islands which are under Yemeni control.

If we take the hypothetical that this ship was in Yemeni waters and it had armed professionals in the pay of private companies on board would that fact alter the legality of the attack?

  • 2
    It's not legal for terrorists to attack a merchant ship in transit that isn't attacking or threatening a country, whether or not the ship has some "armed professionals" on it.
    – Lag
    Feb 17 at 8:32
  • @Lag IIRC, a merchant ship that carries weapons loses some of the rights given to her by international law. This is something that was discussed when there were ideas of skiing merchant ships because of pirate attacks.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 17 at 8:50
  • @SJuan76 I didn't say the government of Yemen would have no right to interfere with the ship.
    – Lag
    Feb 17 at 9:22
  • @SJuan76 skiing?
    – Sneftel
    Feb 17 at 10:18
  • @Sneftel *shipping
    – SJuan76
    Feb 17 at 10:33

1 Answer 1



Firstly, the Houthis do not comprise a body that has a recognised legal right to interfere with shipping in any way at all.

Secondly, under international law (and I imagine Yemen's domestic law) the government doesn't have the legal right to fire missiles at such a vessel.

The presence of armed people on board for self defence does not amount to a sufficient justification for being attacked by missiles. The ship/crew/passengers would have to be doing something far worse than carrying some small arms on their way through the Red Sea to India.

I emphasise the missile attack because it is way beyond a proportionate response to the ship's behaviour. This is not a claim that the government of Yemen could do nothing at all.

In fact there is no claim the ship was doing anything offensive. I don't think even the Houthis have said so. The Houthis attacked the ship to increase the fear of using the Red Sea route, disrupting international commerce, with the intent to influence the world to pressure Israel to stop its military operations in Palestine.

  • Re. international law the North Yemen signing of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea specifically excluded warships, which I thought carrying arms made one. Re. Yemeni law it seems there are moves in that direction.
    – User65535
    Feb 17 at 17:34
  • 2
    @User65535 UNCLOS Article 29: For the purposes of this Convention, "warship" means a ship belonging to the armed forces of a State bearing the external marks distinguishing such ships of its nationality, under the command of an officer duly commissioned by the government of the State and whose name appears in the appropriate service list or its equivalent, and manned by a crew which is under regular armed forces discipline.
    – Lag
    Feb 17 at 17:44

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