Houthi terrorists are stepping up their attacks on shipping in a vital sea lane linking the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean

A French Navy frigate in the Red Sea shot down a second weapon aimed at the stricken Norwegian tanker Strinda on Monday, and prevented the damaged merchant vessel from being hijacked after it was hit by a Houthi rebel cruise missile at a key maritime chokepoint off the coast of Yemen, according to the French Ministry of Defence.

A rebel spokesman accused the Strinda of being “loaded with oil and headed to the Israeli entity,” and said it had failed to heed Houthi calls to halt. The spokesman, General Yahya Sarea, vowed to keep all Israel-linked shipping from passing through the Red Sea until food and medicine are delivered to Gaza.

The Languedoc, a multi-mission frigate patrolling the international shipping lanes near the Bab-el-Mendeb straits had on Sunday shot down two drones launched against shipping in international waters by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. A U.S. Navy ship, the USS Mason also responded to the Strinda’s mayday call and is now escorting the tanker to a safe port, the U.S. military’s Central Command said.

The Strinda’s owners said the ship was in fact carrying palm oil from Malaysia to Italy and was transiting the Red Sea en route to the Suez Canal. The Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran are locked in a bloody, multi-year war with the elected Yemeni government, which is backed by Saudi Arabia. Central Command said the Strinda was hit by a cruise missile fired from Houthi-held territory.

Geir Belsnes, the CEO of the Strinda's operator, J. Ludwig Mowinckels Rederi, told the AP that the crew was all safe and unharmed.

The Houthis have attacked a number of ships in the channel, which is the only passage from the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean, and have also launched drones and missiles at Israel.

The U.S. has been working to line up allies for a maritime patrol mission in the Red Sea, to prevent the war in Gaza from spreading. Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, said over the weekend that Israel would give its allies “some time” to organize a joint response to what he called the Houthi “blockade, but if the threat persists, he said, Israel would “act to remove this blockade.”

Analysts suggest the Houthis hope to shore up waning popular support after years of civil war in Yemen between it and Saudi-backed forces.