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Theguardian: Attackers seize another Israeli-linked ship off Yemen coast

 Diplomatic editor

Another Israeli-linked commercial ship has been attacked – probably by Yemen’s Houthi rebel forces – underscoring the heightened risk to shipping in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb strait.

The latest attack, confirmed by US officials, was on a commercial tanker named Central Park, which is owned and operated by Zodiac Maritime, run by the Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.

The tanker sailed from the Moroccan port of Safi and passed through the Suez canal on 22 November. It appears to have been boarded by eight unidentified gunmen travelling on two boats in the Gulf of Aden, not normally seen as seas that the Houthis control.

Zodiac Maritime said: “Our priority is the safety of our 22 crew onboard. The Turkish-captained vessel has a multinational crew consisting of a crew of Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, Georgian and Filipino nationals. The vessel is carrying a full cargo of phosphoric acid.” No claim of responsibility was immediately made.

The incident is the latest in a series of attacks in Middle Eastern waters since the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas broke out on 7 October.

Last Sunday, the Galaxy Leader was seized off Yemen’s western coast and diverted to the close Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah. Videos of a helicopter landing Yemeni troops on to the cargo ship, the capture of the vessel and then Houthi rebels dancing in celebration were broadcast. They waved the flags of Yemen and Palestine. Later there was footage of a Yemeni naval captain telling the captured crew: “Welcome to Yemen. You are our guests here. We consider you all to be Yemenis.”

Houthi involvement in an attack on a container ship owned by Zim Israel is less clearcut but it appears to have been targeted on Friday while sailing from Israel to China. In a cryptic reference on X, the Yemen army spokesperson wrote the words Zim and nothing further. The ship was last tracked in the Red Sea and there are conflicting reports as to its status. There was no immediate comment from Houthi officials.

The Houthi rebels, backed by Iran and seen as part of the “axis of resistance”, have also fired cruise missiles at Israel but they have been intercepted by the US navy, or Israel itself. The Houthis are fighting a UN-backed government that is based in Aden and is supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Since 2017, Emirati-backed Yemen’s armed groups have taken control of the Bab el-Mandeb area, pushing the Houthis to withdraw. The flashpoint area was thought to have moved to the southern Red Sea, where the Houthis are still in control of Hodeidah.

The latest attack was revealed by the UK Maritime Trade Operations, which said the boat was boarded 53 nautical miles south-west of Aden. It advised vessels to exercise extreme caution and report any suspicious activity.

 

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