Yemen’s Houthi rebels said they have seized what they called an Israeli cargo ship in the Red Sea, and warned that all vessels linked to Israel “will become a legitimate target for armed forces”.
Houthi forces would “continue to carry out military operations against the Israeli enemy until the aggression against Gaza stops and the ugly crimes … against our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the West Bank stop”, said a spokesperson for the group, Yahya Sare’e, in a statement on X.
On Monday the rebels released a video purporting to show Sunday’s seizure.
The footage showed masked armed men jumping on to the ship from a helicopter while the vessel was still moving, and holding crew members at gunpoint. Palestinian and Yemeni flags were raised onboard. It was not immediately possible to verify the clip.
Israel said the vessel was a British-owned and Japanese-operated cargo ship and described the incident as an “Iranian act of terrorism” with consequences for international maritime security.
Israel’s military, writing on X, said “the hijacking of a cargo ship by the Houthis near Yemen in the southern Red Sea is a very grave incident of global consequence”.
It said the ship had left Turkey headed for India, and was “staffed by civilians of various nationalities, not including Israelis”, adding: “It is not an Israeli ship.”
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Nasser Kanani, said the Israeli accusations were “invalid” and “projection meant to escape from the situation they are facing”.
“We have repeatedly announced that the resistance groups in the region represent their countries and make decisions and act based on the interests of their countries,” he said.
The Houthis have recently threatened to target Israeli vessels in the waterway over Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Japan’s top government spokesperson on Monday confirmed the capture of the Nippon Yusen-operated Galaxy Leader, adding that Japan was appealing to the Houthis while seeking the help of Saudi, Omani and Iranian authorities to work towards the swift release of the vessel and its crew.
“We strongly condemn such acts,” the chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, told a news conference. No Japanese nationals were among the crew, he said.
A US military official said the seizure of the vessel “is a flagrant violation of international law. We demand the immediate release of the ship and its crew. We will consult with our allies and UN partners as to appropriate next steps,” the official said.
The maritime security company Ambrey said the vessel’s group owner “is listed as Ray Car Carriers”, whose parent company belongs to Abraham “Rami” Ungar, an Israeli businessperson.
Ray Car Carriers and its parent company, Ray Shipping, could not be immediately reached for comment outside business hours.
Japan’s Nippon Yusen, also known as NYK, said the company had set up a taskforce to gather more information, including on the safety of the 25 crew, who were from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania and Mexico. The vessel, a car carrier, had been heading towards India from Europe with no cargo, a spokesperson said.
The Marine Traffic tracking site said the Galaxy Leader had “departed from Körfez, Turkey, and was on its way to Pipavav, India. Went offline on Saturday south-west of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.”
The office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said a ship – which it did not name – had been seized. There were no Israelis aboard and Israel was not involved in its ownership or operation, his office said.
“This is another Iranian act of terrorism that represents an escalation in Iran’s belligerence against the citizens of the free world, with concomitant international ramifications vis-a-vis the security of global shipping routes,” his office said.
On 14 November, the Houthi rebel leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, said the group was on the lookout for Israeli vessels in the commercially vital waters of the Red Sea – even those that did not have Israeli flags.
“Our eyes are open to constant monitoring and searching for any Israeli ship,” he said in a speech broadcast by the rebels’ Al-Masirah TV station.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report