The US Navy has shot down two anti-ship missiles and sunk three small boats after responding to distress calls from a container ship that was attacked twice by Houthis as it crossed the Red Sea over the weekend.

The US Central Command (Centcom) said it dispatched two destroyers, the USS Gravely and the USS Laboon, after the container ship Maersk Hangzhou reported being struck by a missile while transiting the Southern Red Sea at 8.30pm local time on Saturday.

The commercial ship attacked, the Maersk Hangzhou, is registered to Singapore and operated and owned by a Danish firm, US Central Command said in a statement.

The vessel is reportedly seaworthy and there are no reported injuries.

Centcom said while the ships were responding to the distress call, two anti-ship ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas at the pair of US navy vessels, adding it was the twenty-third “illegal attack by the Houthis on international shipping” since 19 November.

Ten hours later, the Singapore-flagged, Denmark-owned and operated container ship issued a second distress call, saying it was under attack from Houthi gunmen in four small boats.

“The small boats, originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, fired crew served and small arms weapons at the Maersk Hangzhou, getting to within 20 meters of the vessel, and attempted to board the vessel,” Centcom said. “A contract embarked security team on the Maersk Hangzhou returned fire.”

Helicopters from the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and the USS Gravely responded to the distress call and in the process of issuing verbal calls to the small boats, the small boats fired upon the U.S. helicopters with crew served weapons and small arms.

“The U.S. Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews,” the Centcom statement added. “The fourth boat fled the area. There was no damage to U.S. personnel or equipment.”

Several shipping lines have suspended operations through the Red Sea in response to the attacks. Yemen’s Houthis have said they are targeting Israel and Israeli-linked vessels.

Separately, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported an incident on Saturday in the Red Sea about 55 nautical miles south-west of Al Hudaydah, Yemen.

The master of the ship reported “a loud bang accompanied by a flash on the port bow of the vessel” and several explosions in the area.

In the report it is added that “there is no damage to the vessel which has now cleared the area at full speed to next port of call. All crew are reported to be safe.”