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Yemen's Houthi rebels hijack India-bound cargo ship on Red Sea, confirm US officials

The British-owned ship was linked to Israel and the Houthis promised to target ships in international waters that were linked to or owned by the country. Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu later denounced the incident and said that no Israelis were on board.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Washington Published on: November 20, 2023 11:20 IST
British-owned cargo ship Galaxy Leader
Image Source : X British-owned cargo ship Galaxy Leader

Yemen's Houthi rebels have hijacked an Israeli-linked cargo ship in a crucial Red Sea shipping route and took 25 crew members hostage, confirmed US officials on Sunday. The latest development further raised concerns about the Israel-Hamas war expanding in the Middle East.

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.

Two US defense officials confirmed that Houthi rebels seized the Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea on Sunday afternoon (local time). The rebels descended on the cargo ship by rappelling from a helicopter, they said on the condition of anonymity.

Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ chief negotiator and spokesman, later added in an online statement that the Israelis only understand “the language of force". "The detention of the Israeli ship is a practical step that proves the seriousness of the Yemeni armed forces in waging the sea battle, regardless of its costs and costs. This is the beginning," he added.

The vessel was owned by a British company and was operated by a Japanese company at the time of its seizure. According to ownership details in public shipping databases, the ship's owners were associated with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, known as one of the richest men in Israel.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Persian Gulf and the wider region, put the hijacking as having occurred some 150 kilometers (90 miles) off the coast of Yemen’s port city of Hodeida, near the coast of Eritrea. It later cited a security officer with the ship’s company saying the vessel had been taken to Hodeida.

No Israelis were onboard: Netanyahu

Strongly condemning the attack on the international vessel, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office released a statement saying that the crew members onboard were of different nationalities including Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Filipino and Mexican. "No Israelis are onboard," it said on X.

"This is another act of Iranian terrorism and constitutes a leap forward in Iran's aggression against the citizens of the free world, with international consequences regarding the security of the global shipping lanes," the Israel PMO further said.

Meanwhile, the Houthis said they were treating the crew members “in accordance with their Islamic values,” but did not elaborate on what that meant. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) called the hijacking a "very grave incident of global consequence".

Houthi attacks on Israel

Twice in the last month, US warships have intercepted missiles or drones from Yemen that were believed to be headed toward Israel or posing a threat to American vessels. The USS Carney has intercepted three land attack cruise missiles and several drones that were launched by Houthi forces toward the northern Red Sea last month.

The USS Thomas Hudner on November 15 shot down a drone reportedly emerging from Yemen. The officials said the crew took action to ensure the safety of US personnel, and there were no casualties or damage to the ship.

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. That’s why the US Navy has stationed multiple ships in the sea since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7.

Last month, the Houthi rebels took responsibility for a series of missile and drone attacks on Israel amid the latter's war with the Hamas group, and promised to carry out further strikes against the Jewish country as per the "demands of Yemeni people".

Yahya Saria, the spokesperson of the Houthi group, said that the aerial attacks were carried out due to a "sense of religious, moral, humanitarian, and national responsibility” for the people of Gaza, who face a rising humanitarian crisis due to Israeli bombardment, reported the Times of Israel.

The Houthis are known to be one of the most powerful members of Iranian-backed proxy armies, known as the Axis of Resistance. They share the same animosity toward Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, they have been focused on fighting US allies in the Middle East and have rarely engaged in conflicts with Israel.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Cargo ship en route Turkiye to India with 25 crews onboard hijacked by Yemen's Houthis: Report


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