Former U.S. Navy HSV-2 Swift wrecked in Yemen missile attack

The HSV-2 Swift, formerly an original proof-of-concept ship for the U.S. Navy’s Joint High Speed Vessel program, was gutted by explosion and fire when Houthi rebels attacked the ship off Yemen Oct. 1.

Operated by the United Arab Emirates, the 321’x88’x11’ Swift was transiting the Bab Al Mandeb strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden when it was struck at night. Gutted by the attack but still floating, the vessel was moved to Eritrea for salvage.

Photos released by the Emirates News Agency showed the riddled, burned catamaran with a massive hole in its starboard bow. A Houthi rebel group allied with Iran claimed its fighters targeted the vessel with a C-802 anti-ship missile, a weapon of Chinese design.

If true, such missiles could be a major new threat to Red Sea shipping, warned Stratfor, the Austin, Texas, based business and strategic intelligence firm. Two U.S. guided missile destroyers are in the area to keep shipping lanes to the Suez Canal open.

The HSV-2 Swift when in U.S. Navy service. U.S. Navy photo.

The HSV-2 Swift when in U.S. Navy service. U.S. Navy photo.

Built in Australia in 2003 by Incat, the Swift was an early prototype for the U.S. Navy’s vision of high-speed multihull transports. Under lease to the U.S. Military Sealift Command, the vessel showed its ability for rapid response, with top speed around 45 knots, cruising speed of 30 knots, and 600 tons of cargo capacity.

Designed to deliver troops, supplies and vehicles for the American military, the Swift excelled in humanitarian missions, notably relief efforts after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and hurricane Katrina in 2005, when it delivered supplies to Gulf of Mexico communities cut off by road damage.

The concept evolved into today’s class of 103-meter Joint High Speed Vessels, starting with the USNS Spearhead (JHSV1), built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., and christened in 2011. Austal has so far built six for the JSHV fleet.

After the Spearhead replaced it in U.S. service in 2013, the Swift was leased to the UAE and operated with a crew of 17 contract mariners.

Arab coalition forces battling the Houthi said the UAE ship was on a humanitarian mission to carry medical supplies to the war zone and bring out wounded civilians. Days later there were conflicting reports of casualties from the attack, including up to 22 dead.

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.


    • Avatar
      Charles Gallagher on

      I also find it strange that no details about dead or wounded have been released. One might guess that they are intentionally concealing the nationalities. Perhaps they were also doing something other than or in addition to humanitarian aide.

  1. Avatar
    High Speed Humanitarian on

    The “ship was on a humanitarian mission to carry medical supplies to the war zone and bring out wounded civilians”
    Totally believable!

    • Avatar

      Actually, it is quite believable… Sailed on that ship when it was leased to the U.S. In is truly just a ferry and has been used on that capacity many times. Humanitarian aid turned out to be one of it’s best missions. Very sad.

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  3. Avatar
    Dana Beausoleil on

    This is why no naval vessel should be built w/o a phalanx gun. One $2M cruise missile easily destroys $100M littoral support vessel. Also why one shouldn’t send a ship out alone, as did the USN recently resulting in captured sailors by Iran when small boats were sent on a ridiculously long mission w/no more than outboard engines and hand guns.

    • Avatar
      Charles Gallagher on

      If it came with a CIWS then it would have been a warship. US law requires that our warships be built in the US. In order to buy it from Incat in Australia the Navy had to categorize it as not a warship. Also noted that the contract was through Bollinger in Louisiana. That would sem to just add administrative costs unless they were also trying to get around the warship provisions in our laws.

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      Recommend you check facts on the Navy mission. Two armed Riverine combat craft, carrying mounted machine guns, took an unauthorized short cut, skirting Iranian waters. After one broke down and found themselves a drift in Iranina waters. These combat vessels have inboard diesel jet drives, no out board motors here. Our Sailors, at many levels, screwed up royally.

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    • Avatar

      My good friend was a 1st mate with deadlift and was on that boat for a good portion of its “service”. Without putting a new out. Let’s just say kink

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  6. Avatar
    Charles Gallagher on

    After some research I am unable to determine who owns the ship. Strange. I find records of leasing and chartering but no record of selling; so perhaps the US Navy still owns it.

    • Avatar

      US Navy never owned the Swift, it was leased. Owner of the vessel was SEALIFT zinc. The vessel was leased to MSC and the crew was contracted to MSC.

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  9. Avatar

    I’m one from Swift crew, really no one got injury or loss of life. But my opinion if they are want to kill some one , everyone will be dead. After rocket , they are start shooting by minigun from small boat. Now almost all guys in abudhabi , waiting passports. Owners is NMDC . Under UAE military force charter. We are transferred some things , here is why we was under the focus.

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      Hello Michael. I would be grateful to talk to you in connection to this incident. Off the record. I am looking into a series of incidents in and around the gulf of aden. thank you.

  10. Avatar
    Angus Bajdee Cajeh Djof Evan Fernandez on

    I am working on a boatwork project and found this ship. I hope that all this information is liable. If it is not, then we shall be called liars. I hope that it doesn’t happen that way.

  11. Avatar

    Let’s continue giving Iran time, American dollars and resources to overtly arm, train and deploy these rebels. Great idea. They aren’t even bothering to pretend it’s not true anymore and every day they gain more.

  12. Avatar

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    I was on this ship as rotational crew 2005/2006. Thoroughly enjoyed my time onboard. Multiple Humanitarian missions including Banda Ache Tsunami relief; New Orleans, LA Superdome relief from Pensacola, Fla, Hurricane Katrina Relief ; Beirut, Lebanon ex patriot removal and Humanitarian supplies delivered. A lot of people don’t know this ship is built of Aluminum. The damage is not surprising to me. Forward area hit was airline passenger style seating and the galley (kitchen). All materials were light weight for speed. Sad to see her this way. Incat (Hobart, Tasmania), builds incredible machines. That is why she is not a USS or USNS designation. Not built in the U.S.A. I will never forget my time onboard. Oh, It also used 4 of the largest Diesel engine Caterpillar built D3618, 9970 HP, with Wartsilla water jets. Can you tell I am a proud crew member/Engineer ?

    • Avatar

      ART you knew my son. He was on that ship the same time, docked on the Mississippi. Beautiful Ship. He gave me a tour while visiting in Virginia for Christmas 2004. I was telling a friend about this ship last night and I was stunned to see the damages to it. The Forward area was beautiful – reminded me of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. Beautiful ship and you sailors did a great job in New Orleans. At least now I know where else you were. My son was always careful not to give TMI. I would be very proud too, if I were you. Thank you for your service.

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