A Royal Navy warship has shot down a suspected attack drone in the Red Sea, amid a spate of attacks on international shipping linked to the Israel-Hamas war.
Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said that the drone was believed to be targeting merchant shipping in the area, which is a key route for international commerce.
“One Sea Viper missile fired and successfully destroyed the target,” Mr Shapps said in a statement.
“The ship recently arrived in the region to bolster international efforts to maintain maritime security. The recent spate of illegal attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security in the Red Sea.”
Mr Shapps said that the UK was “committed to repelling these attacks” in order to “protect the free flow of global trade.
The HMS Diamond, the Type 45 destroyer that shot down the suspected drone, was only sent to the region two weeks ago amid growing international concern about the threat to shipping.
The incident is believed to the first time the Royal Navy has shot down an aerial target in anger since the First Gulf War in 1991.
It is not clear who launched the drone, but the incident comes amid a series of attacks on shipping in the area following the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
On Friday, Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for attacks on two cargo ships in the Red Sea.
The Iran-backed Houthis – who are fighting the Saudi-backed Government in Yemen and control parts of the country – have declared their support for Hamas.
They claim to be targeting ships travelling to Israel by launching missiles from Yemen, and in November hijacked a vessel.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan – who is on a trip to the Middle East – said the Houthis were a “material threat” to shipping and commerce in the region.
Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping company, told all its vessels planning to pass through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea to “pause their journey until further notice” on Friday.
US, French and British warships have been patrolling the Red Sea in a bid to crack down on the attacks.
First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Ben Key said: “One-sixth of the world’s commercial shipping passes through the Bab-al-Mandeb Strait and Red Sea. HMS Diamond deployed at short notice to the region from Portsmouth just two weeks ago and is already delivering effect together with our American, French and other allies and partners.
“The Royal Navy is committed to upholding the right to free use of the oceans and we do not tolerate indiscriminate threats or attacks against those going about their lawful business on the high seas.”