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Yemen rebels seize Israel-linked cargo ship, take hostages

Kristijan Bracun archives Associated Press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office had blamed the Houthis for the attack on the Galaxy Leader, a vehicle transporter affiliated with an Israeli billionaire. Pictured is the ship at the port of Koper in Slovenia, September 2008.

Jon Gambrell – Associated Press and Isabel Debre – Associated Press in Jerusalem

November 19, 2023

  • Middle East

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 could be exacerbated by the war between Israel and Hamas is transposed onto a new maritime front.

Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, hijacked the ship because of its connection with Israel and took the crew hostage. The group warned that it would continue targeting vessels in international waters that are linked to or owned by Israelis until the end of the Israeli campaign against Hamas leaders in Gaza.

“All “ships 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 Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader, a vehicle transporter affiliated with an Israeli billionaire. It 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 were treating 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.

< p>M. Ungar told The Associated Press 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 the Houthi rebels 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.

Missiles intercepted

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. The USS Carney, a 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, the USS Thomas Hudner, another destroyer, was sailing toward 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.

Army Maritime Commercial Operations Britain, which is warning sailors in the Persian Gulf and the wider region, estimates the hijacking occurred about 150 kilometers off the Yemeni port city of Hodeida, 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 maritime transport global economy and energy supply. 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.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116