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US Navy apprehends armed attackers who seized Israel-linked ship, Houthis retaliate with missiles

The internationally recognised government in Yemen has claimed that the attackers belonged to the Houthis with the support of Iran. When the US warship approached the attackers, they tried to flee via a small boat but were ultimately caught, according to the Central Command.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Dubai Published on: November 27, 2023 13:37 IST
The Israel-linked tanker Central Park was allegedly seized
Image Source : AP The Israel-linked tanker Central Park was allegedly seized by Houthi rebels.

The United States Navy on Sunday apprehended armed attackers who seized an Israeli-linked shop off the coast of Yemen, according to officials. The Yemen-based Houthi rebels then launched two ballistic missiles in apparent retaliation near a US warship aiding the Israel-linked ship in the Gulf of Aden, further heightening tensions in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

It is likely that the armed assailants are Houthi rebels, as the internationally recognised Saudi-backed Yemeni government blamed the Houthis for the attack. This comes after a series of ship attacks linked to the Israel-Hamas war has sparked tensions of the conflict widening onto the Middle East.

According to military and intelligence inputs, the armed attackers seized the Liberian-flagged Central Park, managed by the London-based Zodiac Maritime. However, the US military's Central Command on Monday said that its forces and allies responded to the seizure and demanded the assailants release the tanker.

How did the US catch the attackers?

"Subsequently, five armed individuals debarked the ship and attempted to flee via their small boat. The (USS) Mason pursued the attackers resulting in their eventual surrender," Central Command said in a statement. Soon after, the command reported a missile launch from Houthi-controlled Yemen.

"The missiles landed in the Gulf of Aden approximately 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometers) from the ships. The USS Mason … was concluding its response to the M/V Central Park distress call at the time of the missile launches. There was no damage or reported injuries from either vessel during this incident," said the Central Command.

According to Zodiac, the vessel carried phosphoric acid and its crew of 22 sailors from Bulgaria, Georgia, India, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam were unharmed. “We would like to thank the coalition forces who responded quickly, protecting assets in the area and upholding international maritime law,” the company said.

In a statement, the Yemeni government said that it has "renewed its denunciation of the acts of maritime piracy carried out by the terrorist Houthi militias with the support of the Iranian regime, the most recent of which was the hijacking of the Central Park."

This is not the first time that a Zodiac Maritime vessel came under attack amid the shadow war between Iran and Israel. A drone attack said to be carried out by Iran in 2021 killed two members aboard an oil tanker owned by the UK-based company near the coast of Oman.

On Friday, a container ship, CMA CGM Symi, owned by another Israeli billionaire, came under attack on Friday by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean. However, Iran has not commented so far on its alleged role in carrying out the attack.

India-bound ship seized

Earlier this month, Houthi rebels hijacked an Israeli-linked cargo ship in a crucial Red Sea shipping route and took 25 crew members hostage, said US officials and the Israel Defence Forces. The cargo ship named 'Galaxy Leader' was travelling from Turkey to New Delhi, India.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels said they hijacked the ship over its connection to Israel and would continue to target ships in international waters that were linked to or owned by Israelis until the end of Israel’s campaign against Hamas.

Initially, it was reported that the ship was related to Israel, but later, the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel clarified it has no links with the hijacked vessel and named Iran for the incident. Some media also reported that Israeli citizens were boarded but later it was rebuffed by Tel Aviv.

Later, Iran rejected the claims and asserted it was an independent act of Yemen's Houthi rebels. In a press conference, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said that Israel has accused Tehran of diverting the attention from the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

(with inputs from agencies)

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