JERUSALEM (AP) — Yemen’s Houthi rebels seized a cargo ship belonging to Israel in a vital Red Sea shipping route on Sunday, officials said, taking more than two dozen crew members hostage and raising fears that they could be captured. Regional tensions have increased over the Israel-Hamas war. On a new maritime frontier.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels said they hijacked the ship because of its ties to Israel and took the crew hostage. The group warned that it would continue targeting ships in international waters that were linked to or owned by Israel until the end of Israel’s campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
“All ships belonging to or dealing with the Israeli enemy will become legitimate targets,” the Houthis said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office blamed the Houthis for the attack on the Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader, a carrier affiliated with an Israeli billionaire. It said the 25 crew members had a variety of nationalities, including Bulgarian, Filipino, Mexican and Ukrainian, but there were no Israelis on the plane.
The Houthis said they were treating the crew members “in accordance with their Islamic values”, but did not specify what this meant.
Netanyahu’s office condemned the seizure as an “Iranian act of terrorism.” The Israeli military called the kidnapping “a very serious incident of global consequence.”
Israeli officials insisted that the ship was British-owned and Japanese-operated. However, ownership details in public shipping databases link the ship’s owners to Ray Kar Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Unger, known as one of Israel’s richest men.
Ungar told The Associated Press he was aware of the incident but could not comment as he waited for details. A ship linked to them exploded in the Gulf of Oman in 2021. At that time the Israeli media blamed Iran for this.
The complex world of international shipping often involves a series of management companies, flags and owners of a single ship spread around the world.
Two US defense officials confirmed that Houthi rebels captured the Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea on Sunday afternoon local time. Officials confirmed information first reported by NBC News, saying insurgents retreated from a helicopter and landed on a cargo ship. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Twice in the past month, US warships have intercepted missiles or drones coming from Yemen that were believed to be headed towards Israel or pose a threat to US ships. The Navy destroyer USS Carney intercepted three land attack cruise missiles and multiple drones launched by Houthi forces toward the northern Red Sea last month.
On November 15, the USS Thomas Hudner, another destroyer, was headed toward the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait when the crew sighted a drone that was reported to have originated in Yemen. The ship shot down the drone over the water. Officials said the crew took action to ensure the safety of American personnel and there were no casualties or damage to the ship.
Satellite tracking data from MarineTraffic.com analyzed by the AP showed that the Galaxy Leader was traveling in the Red Sea southwest of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, more than a day ago. At the time of the seizure reported by Israel, the ship was in Korfez, Turkey, and headed towards Pipavav, India.
The data showed that its Automatic Identification System tracker or AIS was off. Ships must keep their AIS active for security reasons, but if it appears they may be targeted or smuggled goods, the crew will turn them off, as is the case with Galaxy Leader. There was no immediate evidence.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Persian Gulf and the wider region, reported the hijacking near the coast of Yemen, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) off the coast of the port city of Hodeida. 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 major trade route for global shipping and energy supplies. That’s why the US Navy has deployed several ships to sea since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7.
Since 2019, there have been a series of attacks on ships at sea as Iran began violating all limits of its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. As Israel expands its devastating campaign against Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip following the terrorist group’s unprecedented attack on southern Israel, fears have grown that the military operation could escalate into a wider regional conflict.
The Houthis have repeatedly threatened to target Israeli ships in Yemeni waters.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tara Cope in Washington contributed.