Video shows 2021 Sri Lankan ship fire, not Dec. 3 Red Sea attack
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Social posts claim a video shows an Israeli ship in flames after a Dec. 3 missile strike. That’s false. It shows a cargo ship off the coast of Sri Lanka in 2021.

On Sunday, Dec. 3, there were four attacks against three separate commercial vessels operating in international waters in the southern Red Sea, U.S. military officials confirmed. Tensions have been high in that area since the war between Israel and Hamas militants began in October.

One of those ships that came under attack was the Unity Explorer, a U.K.-owned ship that is registered in the Bahamas and contains crews from the two nations. 

Following the Red Sea attack, a post online claimed to show a video of the aftermath of the missile strike on the Unity Explorer. The video shows a large ship at sea engulfed in flames.

Online posts with the video claim the Unity Explorer is an Israeli cargo ship and it sank in the Red Sea after being hit.

THE QUESTION

Does this video show the aftermath of the Unity Explorer attack on Dec. 3, as the online posts claim?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, the video doesn’t show the aftermath of the attack on the Unity Explorer on Dec. 3, as the online posts claim. The video actually shows a cargo ship burning off the coast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and was taken in May 2021.

WHAT WE FOUND

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which operates in an area stretching from Northeast Africa across the Middle East to Central and South Asia, confirmed the Unity Explorer was struck by a missile on Dec. 3. But this video doesn’t show the aftermath of that missile strike, nor is the Unity Explorer an Israeli ship, as the social posts claimed.

Using InVid to isolate the keyframes in the video and RevEye to conduct a reverse image search, VERIFY was able to match the viral video to this video distributed by video licensing company Newsflare on May 25, 2021. 

“Firefighters and the crew of a burning ship off the coast of Colombo, Sri Lanka, have been evacuated after an explosion. The vessel has been engulfed in flames for several days leading to an explosion that occurred on Tuesday (May 25). Footage from May 26 shows thick black smoke rising from the burning vessel. Several containers on the ship have also tumbled into the sea,” the video’s caption says. 

The video distributed by Newsflare is more than five minutes long and shows several angles of the ship on fire. The video that is being falsely shared in connection with the Unity Explorer is a 30-second clip lifted from the longer video.

You can tell the videos are the same by comparing details like the angle at which the videos were taken, the smoke formation and the positioning of the cargo on the ship. 

The boat seen in the original video was called the X-Press Pearl and footage from Sri Lanka’s Air Force corroborates reports it was engulfed in fire in late May. The same boat can be seen in the footage posted by Sri Lanka’s Air Force and Newsflare.

According to a BBC report from June 9, 2021, the X-Press Pearl sat off the coast of Sri Lanka burning for days before sinking. The ship was carrying chemicals and a chemical reaction was believed to be the cause of the fire. The BBC report said the chemicals aboard the ship were highly dangerous to the environment.

What really happened on Dec. 3 in the Red Sea

According to CENTCOM, the USS Carney, a Navy destroyer, detected a ballistic missile fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen at the Unity Explorer. The missile hit near the ship, the U.S. said. Shortly afterward, the Carney shot down a drone headed its way, although it’s not clear if the destroyer was the target, Central Command said.

About 30 minutes later, the Unity Explorer was hit by a missile, according to CENTCOM. While responding to the Unity Explorer’s distress call, the Carney shot down another incoming drone. Central Command said the Unity Explorer sustained minor damage from the missile, contrary to the exaggerated claims on social media that said it had sunk.

Two other commercial ships, the Panamanian-flagged bulk carriers Number 9 and Sophie II, were both struck by missiles. The Number 9 reported some damage but no casualties, and the Sophie II reported no significant damage, Central Command said.

In response to the attacks, the U.S. said they will “consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners.”

Britain’s Defense Secretary Grant Shapps posted: “I strongly condemn the outrageous and unlawful attacks on ships by Iran backed Houthi militants. The UK is committed to protecting maritime security & deterring escalation, with HMS Diamond deploying to the region as part of the UK’s efforts to ensure regional stability.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

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