Hijacked Car Carrier's Crew Treated "As Well As Can Be Expected"

A Houthi naval forces commander welcomes the crew of the seized car carrier Galaxy Leader (Houthi Military Media)
A Houthi naval forces commander welcomes the crew of the seized car carrier Galaxy Leader (Houthi Military Media)

Published Dec 5, 2023 5:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

The crew of the hijacked car carrier Galaxy Leader are being allowed to have a limited amount of contact with their families, and the information that they've passed on suggests that they are being reasonably well-treated by the Houthi rebels who captured the ship, according to the shipowner. 

In a statement, owner Galaxy Maritime Ltd. called on the crew's nations of origin to redouble their efforts to free the seafarers. "The 25 crew members being held have no connection whatsoever with the current situation in the region," Galaxy Maritime said Monday. "Nothing can be achieved by their further detention."

17 members of the Galaxy Leader's crew are Filipino, and the remaining eight are Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian and Mexican citizens. The government of the Philippines says that it is putting a high priority on securing the release of its nationals aboard Galaxy Leader. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. canceled a planned trip to Dubai for the COP28 climate summit in order to focus on negotiations for the seafarers' release, and said that Manila was dispatching a delegation to Tehran. (Iran is the Houthi movement's foreign sponsor.) 

Galaxy Leader was hijacked by heavily-armed militants and a Houthi-operated helicopter on November 19. The orchestrated, carefully-filmed boarding appeared to catch the car carrier's crew by surprise. The ship was diverted to Hodeidah, then relocated to Al Salif, both controlled by Houthi separatists. 

On arrival, a top Houthi commander boarded the ship and told the crew that they would be treated as "guests." In a recorded encounter, he invited them to ask for anything that they might need. 

Since the ship anchored off Al Salif, it has become something of a tourist attraction for the Houthi population at large. Multiple videos posted to social media show Yemeni nationals dancing, playing music, sharing a narcotic herb with crewmembers, and taking photos of themselves on board. One recent image appears to depict a college graduation ceremony on the top deck. 

The Galaxy Leader is operated by Isle of Man-based Ray Car Carriers, a firm with ownership ties to an Israeli shipping magnate. There are no Israeli nationals aboard, according to the Israeli government. Houthi leaders have promised to target Israel-linked shipping in retaliation for the ongoing Israeli military operation in Gaza, and have launched multiple attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea over the past two weeks. 

According to Politico, some U.S. officials are concerned that the White House is treating these attacks with less than the degree of concern that they deserve. The crews of the destroyers USS Carney and USS Thomas Hudner have shot down nearby drones multiple times, fearing the possibility of an attack. 

Over the weekend, Houthi forces targeted three more ships, Unity Explorer, AOM Sophie II and the Number 9, according to U.S. Central Command. USS Carney shot down three UAVs while assisting Unity Explorer.

The Biden administration has hedged on whether U.S. Navy warships were targeted by any of these attacks. However, Pentagon officials told Politico that it is clear that U.S. warships are "under threat" like never before in the Red Sea. “You’d be hard-pressed to find another time” when the threat level was higher, one official said.

Officials have also made clear that the disruption is not just a regional Houthi phenomenon. U.S. Central Command assesses that "these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran."