Video shows Sri Lanka disaster in 2021, not burning US cargo ship off Yemen in 2024

  • Published on January 23, 2024 at 09:39
  • Updated on February 9, 2024 at 03:01
  • 2 min read
  • By AFP Pakistan
After the US military said Yemen's Huthi rebels hit a US-owned cargo vessel with a missile, dramatic footage of smoke billowing from a ship emerged in social media posts falsely claiming it was filmed moments after the attack. While the posts garnered thousands of views, the video actually shows a maritime disaster in 2021 in which a Singapore-registered ship carrying tonnes of nitric acid caught fire off the Sri Lankan coast. 

"Yemen has destroyed an American cargo ship," reads an Urdu-language post on social media site X shared on January 15.

The post, which has had more than 48,000 views, shows aerial footage of a massive fire engulfing a cargo vessel.

The clip was posted hours after the US military said Huthi rebels hit a US-owned cargo vessel with a missile off Yemen, heightening fears for the volatile region after repeated attacks on shipping triggered American and British strikes.

The Marshall Islands-flagged Gibraltar Eagle suffered a fire on board but no casualties and remained seaworthy, the US Central Command said.

The Huthis say their attacks on Red Sea shipping are in solidarity with Gaza, where Iran-backed Hamas militants have been at war with Israel for more than three months.

Attacks by and against the Huthis, part of the "axis of resistance" of Iran-aligned groups, have raised concerns about violence spreading in the region from the Gaza war.

Around 12 percent of global trade normally passes through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, the Red Sea's entrance between southwest Yemen and Djibouti, but the rebel attacks have caused much shipping to be diverted thousands of miles around Africa.

Screenshot of the false post, taken on January 22, 2024.

The same video had also been falsely shared as recent in another post on X, which was shared more than 1,300 times.

Similar claims also surfaced in English, Arabic, Spanish and German.

Sri Lanka disaster

Reverse image searches on Google using keyframes from the video found it shared by the Sri Lankan Airforce in a compilation of images and clips posted on its YouTube channel on May 25, 2021 (archived link).

"Latest video footage from the vessel X-PRESS PEARL which is currently engulfed in flames," the YouTube video's description reads.

The video in the false posts is a mirrored version of the clip from the 34-second mark onwards of the Sri Lankan Airforce's YouTube post.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video falsely shared online (left) and the video from 2021 (right) with the corresponding features highlighted by AFP:


AFP also published footage of the disaster.

On May 20, 2021 the X-Press Pearl reported an onboard acid leak and caught fire just as it was due to enter the Colombo harbour from Gujarat, India.

The Singapore-registered ship had 25 tonnes of nitric acid and other chemicals as well as 28 containers of plastic raw material, much of which fell into the sea.

The fire was extinguished after a 13-day international operation, the navy said.

This story was updated to correct a typo in the second paragraph.
February 9, 2024 This story was updated to correct a typo in the second paragraph.

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