In a stunning turn of events, a dramatic video has surfaced showing Houthi rebels, allegedly backed by Iran, hijacking a cargo ship in the Red Sea. The rebels swiftly took control of the Bahamas-flagged vehicle carrier, Galaxy Leader, and held its 25 crew members hostage at gunpoint. This audacious act, reminiscent of Iranian forces’ tactics in the Strait of Hormuz, marks the first official entry into a foreign war by the Houthi group.
The seizure took place approximately 90 miles off the coast of Yemen’s port city of Hodeida while the Galaxy Leader was en route from Turkey to India. Despite Israeli officials vehemently denying any links between the vessel and their country, footage released by the Houthi television station Al Masirah showed armed fighters rappelling onto the ship’s deck from a helicopter, closely resembling Iranian seizure methods. The rebels made their presence known by shouting what appeared to be the Houthi slogan.
The Houthi rebels justified their actions by declaring that any ship associated with Israel or engaged in dealings with it would be considered a legitimate target until the bombardment of the Gaza Strip ceased. This move was seen as an alarming escalation by the rebels and a demonstration of their determination to wage a sea battle.
The Israeli government swiftly condemned the hijacking, labeling it as an “Iranian act of terror.” The Israeli military described it as a grave incident of global consequence. While Israeli officials emphasized that the ship was British-owned and Japanese-operated, records from the publicly available shipping database linked the ship’s owners to Ray Car Carriers, a company founded by Israeli billionaire Abraham “Rami” Ungar. However, Ungar refrained from commenting on the incident, stating that he awaited further information.
The Japanese-based operator of the Galaxy Leader, NYK Line, confirmed that the ship had no cargo on board during the hijacking. The vessel’s crewmembers hail from various countries, including the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Mexico. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, assured that the government would do everything within its power to negotiate the release of the crew with the Houthi rebels. The Japanese government also pledged to cooperate with Israel, Iran, Oman, and Saudi Arabia throughout the process.
As the situation unfolds, concerns about the treatment of the crew remain. The Houthi rebels initially claimed to be treating the crew in accordance with their Islamic values but did not provide further details. Families of the crew members anxiously wait for any communication from the captors.
The Houthi rebels’ repeated threats against Israeli ships off the Yemeni coast over the past years have not gone unnoticed. Yemen expert Gregory D. Johnsen believes that these attacks serve the interests of the rebels’ benefactors in Tehran while also bolstering their standing within Yemen. The Red Sea trade routes have become increasingly volatile since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, with US warships intercepting missiles or drones from Yemen on multiple occasions.
As the international community watches closely, the fate of the Galaxy Leader’s crew hangs in the balance. The brazen seizure of the cargo ship by Houthi rebels has set a troubling precedent, raising concerns about maritime security in the region and the potential for further escalations.