Yemen’s Houthi rebels have captured an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea, taking over 25 crew members hostage. This incident has raised concerns that the Israel-Hamas war has now extended to a new maritime front. The Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, claimed responsibility for hijacking the ship, citing its connection to Israel. They also issued a warning that they would target any ships in international waters linked to or owned by Israelis until Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza is over.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s office has accused the Houthis of carrying out this attack on the Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader, a vehicle carrier associated with an Israeli billionaire. The 25 crew members on board are of various nationalities, including Bulgarian, Filipino, Mexican, and Ukrainian, but no Israelis were reported to be among them. The Houthis stated that they are treating the crew members “in accordance with their Islamic values” without providing further details.
Both the Israeli government and military have condemned the seizure of the ship. They described it as an “Iranian act of terror” and a “very grave incident of global consequence.” Israeli officials claimed that the ship was British-owned and Japanese-operated. However, public shipping databases indicate that the ship’s owners are associated with Ray Car Carriers, which was founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, one of Israel’s wealthiest individuals. Ungar, when contacted by the Associated Press, said he could not comment until he received more information about the incident. It should be noted that a ship linked to Ungar experienced an explosion in the Gulf of Oman in 2021, which Israeli media attributed to Iran at the time.
The world of international shipping is complex, involving multiple management companies, flags, and owners spread across different countries for a single vessel. The seizure of the Galaxy Leader occurred in the Red Sea, and U.S. defense officials have confirmed the Houthi rebels’ involvement. According to these officials, the rebels descended on the cargo ship from a helicopter. In the past month, U.S. warships have intercepted missiles and drones from Yemen believed to be targeting Israel or posing a threat to American vessels.
Satellite tracking data analyzed by the Associated Press showed that the Galaxy Leader was traveling in the Red Sea, southwest of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, more than a day before the seizure was reported by Israel. The ship had turned off its Automatic Identification System tracker, which is normally kept on for safety reasons. The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations reported that the hijacking occurred approximately 150 kilometers (90 miles) off the coast of Hodeida, Yemen, near the coast of Eritrea.
The Red Sea is a crucial trade route for global shipping and energy supplies, stretching from Egypt’s Suez Canal to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, the U.S. Navy has deployed multiple ships in the region. There have been previous attacks on ships in the area since 2019, coinciding with Iran’s violations of its nuclear deal with world powers. As Israel intensifies its campaign against Hamas in Gaza, there are growing concerns that the situation could escalate into a wider regional conflict. The Houthis have previously threatened to target Israeli ships off the coast of Yemen.