A French warship shot down four Houthi drones early on Saturday to protect the ongoing salvage of a bulker drifting off Yemen after it suffered the first fatal seafarer casualties of the Red Sea crisis.

The action by the unnamed French frigate “directly contributed to the protection of the [50,448-dwt] True Confidence [built 2011] … which is under tow, as well as to that of other commercial vessels in transit,” the French defence ministry said in a statement.

The Houthi drones were flying in “tactical” attack formation in the frigate’s direction, said the French military, which forms part of the EU’s NAVFOR Aspides naval force in the area.

The statement officially confirms a TradeWinds story from Friday that a tug was underway to secure a line on the True Confidence and take it to a nearby port in the Gulf of Aden.

According to TradeWinds sources, the tug has been contracted on a daily hire basis rather than a Lloyd’s Open Form salvage contract.

The True Confidence was struck by a Houthi missile on Wednesday, leaving three crew members dead and causing a storm of protests by international shipping groups and associations.

Outrage and repeated western air strikes, however, have done little to reduce the Yemeni rebels’ capacity to disrupt commercial shipping and to directly threaten the EU and US warships patrolling the key waterway.

The Yemeni rebel group launched 37 drones against “American war destroyers” in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden early on Saturday, its military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a televised statement.

A French navy vessel in action against incoming Houthi drones off Yemen on Saturday. Photo: French navy

Later in the day, several western navies confirmed a massive Houthi drone attack took place.

US Central Command said that the Houthis conducted “a large-scale” operation by one-way attack uncrewed aerial vehicles.

Western warships and fighter jets shot down at least 28 such objects between 01.00 GMT and 05.20 GMT, according to the US military.

“No US or coalition navy vessels were damaged in the attack and there were also no reports by commercial ships of damage,” Central Command said.

French and Danish war vessels took part in the action.

The French frigate Alsace shot down three drones in the Red Sea, EU NAVFOR said in a post on X.

The Danish military separately announced that its own frigate Iver Huitfeld downed four drones “sent by hostile forces from the Houthi movement”.

“Both the ship and crew are safe,” Denmark’s Defence Command said.