(Jerusalem) Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized an Israel-linked cargo ship on a crucial Red Sea shipping route on Sunday, taking more than two dozen crew members hostage and raising fears that regional tensions exacerbated by the war between Israel and Hamas are transposing onto a new maritime front.
Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, hijacked the ship due to its connection with Israel and took the crew hostage. The group warned that it would continue targeting vessels in international waters that were linked to or owned by Israelis until the end of the Israeli campaign against Hamas leaders in Gaza.
“All vessels belonging to or dealing with the Israeli enemy will become legitimate targets,” the Houthis said.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the Houthis for the attack on the Galaxy Leader, flagged in the Bahamas, a vehicle transporter affiliated with an Israeli billionaire. He said the 25 crew members were of different nationalities, including Bulgarian, Filipino, Mexican and Ukrainian, but that no Israelis were on board.
The Houthis said they treated the crew members “in accordance with their Islamic values,” but did not specify what that meant.
Mr Netanyahu’s office condemned the seizure as an “act of Iranian terrorism”. The Israeli military called the hijacking “a very serious incident with global consequences.”
Israeli officials insisted the ship was British-owned and Japanese-operated. However, ownership details in public shipping databases linked the ship’s owners to Ray, Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, one of Israel’s richest men.
Mr. Ungar told The Associated Press that he was aware of the incident but could not comment pending details. A ship linked to it experienced an explosion in 2021 in the Gulf of Oman. Israeli media then blamed Iran.
The complex world of international shipping often involves a series of management companies, flags and owners spread across the globe on a single vessel.
Two US defense officials confirmed that Houthi rebels have seized the Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea on Sunday afternoon. The rebels descended on the cargo ship from a helicopter, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Twice in the past month, U.S. warships have intercepted missiles or drones coming from Yemen, suspected of heading toward Israel or posing a threat to U.S. ships. L’USS Carneya Navy destroyer, intercepted three land-attack cruise missiles and several drones launched by Houthi forces toward the northern Red Sea last month.
On November 15, theUSS Thomas Hudner, another destroyer, was sailing towards the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait when the crew spotted a drone, believed to be coming from Yemen. The ship shot down the drone over the water. Officials said the crew took steps to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and there were no casualties or damage to the ship.
The British Army’s UK Maritime Commercial Operations, which warns sailors in the Persian Gulf and the wider region, estimates the hijacking occurred about 150 kilometers off the coast of the port city of Hodeida, in Yemen, near the coast of Eritrea.
The Red Sea, stretching from Egypt’s Suez Canal to the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait separating the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, remains a key trade route for global shipping and energy supplies. This is why the US Navy has stationed several ships at sea since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas on October 7.
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