Southern Red Sea, near Yemen – November 20, 2023
In a daring raid believed to be orchestrated by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, a Japanese cargo ship, the Galaxy Leader, was seized in the southern Red Sea using a helicopter assault, according to three U.S. officials.
The incident happened around “1 p.m. local time on Sunday,” when a helicopter descended upon the Japanese-owned vessel, displaying the Bahamian flag. Several armed individuals rappelled down to the ship’s deck, taking control of the cargo vessel.
This attack follows closely on the heels of a chilling warning issued by the Houthis just days ago. Accompanied by a graphic featuring captions in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, the message declared, “We will sink your ships.” The graphic depicted an Israeli commercial ship engulfed in flames.
International concerns had been raised earlier on November 16 when the International Maritime Security Construct issued an advisory to mariners in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, cautioning of a potential threat. While the advisory did not explicitly name the Houthis, it urged ships to steer clear of Yemeni waters and recommended night travel whenever possible.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s regional forces redirected inquiries to the Pentagon, where a U.S. Defense official stated, “We’re aware of the situation and are monitoring it closely.”
The Israel Defense Forces, in response to the incident, emphasized the gravity of the situation on a global scale. The hijacked cargo ship, en route from Turkey to India with an international civilian crew, did not include any Israeli members. The spokesperson clarified that the seized vessel was not of Israeli origin.
The Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, have been engaged in a decade-long conflict with the Yemeni military. Recently, their activities have extended beyond Yemen, with drone and missile launches toward Israel, a country currently in conflict with another Iranian proxy, Hamas.
This episode marks the latest in a series of incidents involving Houthi aggression. The international community, particularly maritime authorities, remains on high alert as the situation unfolds in the strategically vital Red Sea region.