Israel-linked ship attacked off Yemeni coast, after 2 similar cases claimed by Houthis

22 crew members — none of them Israeli — were on board at time of attack, US defense officials say; no group has come forward to claim responsibility

In an undated photo released by Zodiac Maritime, the tanker Central Park is seen. Attackers seized the tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Aden, Yemen, on November 26, 2023, authorities said. (Zodiac Maritime via AP)
In an undated photo released by Zodiac Maritime, the tanker Central Park is seen. Attackers seized the tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Aden, Yemen, on November 26, 2023, authorities said. (Zodiac Maritime via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Attackers seized a tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Aden, Yemen, on Sunday, authorities said. While no group immediately claimed responsibility, it comes as at least two other maritime attacks in recent days have been linked to the Israel-Hamas war, even as both sides observe a four-day ceasefire.

The attackers seized the Liberian-flagged Central Park, managed by Zodiac Maritime, in the Gulf of Aden, the company and private intelligence firm Ambrey said. An American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, also confirmed the attack took place.

Zodiac called the attack “a suspected piracy incident.”

“Our priority is the safety of our 22 crew onboard,” Zodiac said in a statement. “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.”

Zodiac described the vessel as being owned by Clumvez Shipping Inc., though other records directly linked Zodiac as the owner. London-based Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

British corporate records listed two men with the last name Ofer as a current and former director of Clumvez Shipping, including Daniel Guy Ofer, who is also a director at Zodiac Maritime.

It wasn’t immediately clear who was behind the attack. Aden is held by forces allied to Yemen’s internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led coalition that has battled Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for years. That part of the Gulf of Aden in theory is under the control of those forces and is fairly distant from Houthi-controlled territory in the country. Somali pirates also are not known to operate in that area.

The US defense official said that it appeared “an unknown number of unidentified armed individuals” seized the ship.

“US and coalition forces are in the vicinity and we are closely monitoring the situation,” the official said.

Ambrey said that it appeared that “US naval forces are engaged in the situation and have asked vessels to stay clear of the area.”

Zodiac Maritime has been targeted previously amid a wider years-long shadow war between Iran and Israel. In 2021, a drone attack assessed by the US and other Western nations to have been carried out by Iran killed two crew members aboard Zodiac’s oil tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, had earlier issued a warning to sailors that “two black-and-white craft carrying eight persons in military-style clothing” had been seen in the area. It issued another warning saying that radio traffic suggested a possible attack had occurred.

The Central Park seizure comes after a container ship, CMA CGM Symi, owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack Friday by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean, an American defense official said Saturday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not allowed to discuss intelligence matters.

According to the defense official, the Malta-flagged vessel was suspected to have been targeted by a triangle-shaped, bomb-carrying Shahed-136 drone while in international waters. The drone exploded, causing damage to the ship but not injuring any of its crew.

CMA CGM, a major shipper based in Marseille, France, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the vessel’s crew had been behaving as though they believed the ship faced a threat.

The ship had its Automatic Identification System tracker switched off since Tuesday when it left Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, according to data from analyzed by the AP. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS active for safety reasons, but crews will turn them off if it appears they might be targeted. It had done the same earlier when traveling through the Red Sea past Yemen, home to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows Houthi forces boarding the cargo ship Galaxy Leader on Sunday, November 19, 2023. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

The attacks come as global shipping increasingly finds itself targeted in the war between Israel and Hamas, which began on October 7 when the Palestinian terror group launched the deadliest attack in Israel’s history, killing at least 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages.

Last week, on November 19, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship in the Red Sea off Yemen and claimed that the ship was Israeli.

However, it was found to only be partially owned by Israeli tycoon Abraham Ungar, and at the time of the attack, the ship was sailing with an international civilian crew, with no Israelis on board.

Iranian-backed militias in Iraq also have launched attacks on American troops in both Iraq and Syria during the war, though Iran itself has yet to be linked directly to an attack.

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