A British-owned ship has been hit by a missile in the Red Sea as part of an assault by Iranian-backed rebels, the US military said.

The Bahamas-flagged Unity Explorer, owned by a British company, was one of three commercial vessels targeted in the drone and missile assault on Sunday.

US military Central Command said the Unity Explorer sustained minor damage in the attack.

Two other ships registered in Panama were also struck by missiles, the Number 9 reporting some damage with the Sophie II suffering no significant damage, according to Central Command.

A military statement said guided-missile destroyer USS Carney shot down three drones in the attacks after responding to calls for assistance.

According to reports by the Associated Press, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for the attack on the Unity Explorer and one of the other attacks.

US Central Command said the attacks represented a “direct threat” to maritime security and commerce.

It said: “We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran.”

Yemen’s Houthis have been launching a series of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, as well as launching drones and missiles targeting Israel in response to its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Earlier in November, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship also linked to Israel in the Red Sea off Yemen.

Missiles landed near another US warship last week after it assisted a vessel linked to Israel that had briefly been seized by gunmen.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We condemn the attack on commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Houthi militants.

“As we’ve previously said, Iran has long provided political and military support to Houthi militants and it bears responsibility for the actions of its proxies and partners.

“These waters are vital routes for global trade and incidents like these show the importance of the Royal Navy’s presence in the region.”

Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond was already heading to the region to bolster the navy’s presence there.