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Houthi Rebels Hijack Israeli-Linked Car Carrier

Houthi rebels with a boat
A Houthi-operated Mi-17 helicopter in a drill in early 2023. The rebels are said to have boarded a PCTC by helicopter (Houthi Military Media / mmy.ye file image)

Published Nov 19, 2023 1:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Houthi rebel militia that controls northern Yemen has captured an Israeli-linked ship and taken the crew hostage, a spokesman for the Iran-backed group claimed Sunday.

The vessel has been identified as the PCTC Galaxy Leader, operated by NYK. It is commercially operated by the Isle of Man-incorporated, Israeli-owned ro/ro firm Ray Car Carriers. 

Israel's defense ministry has denied that the ship is "Israeli," but warned Sunday that the hijacking is "a very grave incident of global consequence." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office reports that there are 25 seafarers aboard - none Israeli, most drawn from the top seafarer-supplying countries - and said that the attack was "another act of Iranian terrorism." Iran is the primary foreign sponsor of the Houthi cause. 

Any planned security response to the hijacking will have ample resources. The Red Sea is brimming with Israel-aligned naval assets, including the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group and its 2,000 embarked U.S. Marines. The Ford Carrier Strike Group is just to the north on the other side of the Suez Canal, and the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group is operating to the east of Bab el-Mandeb.

The Galaxy Leader may not be the last vessel hijacked, Houthi leaders warned. “All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets,” a Houthi spokesperson warned. 

U.S. officials have told NBC that the ship was boarded and hijacked by helicopter. The Houthi rebel force is known to operate Mi-17 helicopters seized from the government of Yemen over the course of the country's long civil war. 

Vessel operators had forewarning about the risk of an attack in the Red Sea. Last week, the International Maritime Security Construct warned shipping of threats from "malign actors" and advised transiting past Yemen only at night, with AIS off, in order to prevent identification. “Should your vessel be threatened, don’t stop and be a hard target through your maneuver,” IMSC warned.