The Israeli government said on Sunday that Yemen’s Houthi militia had hijacked a ship in the Red Sea.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Houthis, an Iran-backed militia, about the alleged hijacking. Only hours earlier, they had issued a statement threatening to target Israeli flagged, owned and operated ships traversing the Red Sea. In the same statement, the Houthis warned countries to withdraw their nationals working on such ships, to avoid their freight and to sail away from such vessels.
The Israeli military called the episode on Sunday a “grave event,” saying that the ship was en route to India from Turkey and had an “international crew, without Israelis.”
“This is not an Israeli ship,” the military said in a statement.
The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel echoed that in a statement of its own, saying that the vessel was British-owned and operated by a Japanese company. It had 25 crew members on board, the statement said, condemning the attack without naming the vessel.
News reports identified the ship as the Galaxy Leader, which bore no obvious links to Israel. The ship sailed under the flag of the Bahamas — a popular place for ship registration because of tax advantages — and is listed as a vehicle carrier owned by an Isle of Man-based firm called Ray Car Carriers Ltd, according to Marine Traffic, a real-time maritime data platform.
The company’s beneficial owner appears to have at some point been the Israeli billionaire Rami Ungar, according to the Paradise Papers, a major leak of confidential documents that exposed a hidden world of wealth and ownerships. Mr. Ungar — who is routinely cited as the ultimate owner of Ray Car Carriers in maritime trade media — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 620-foot Galaxy Leader departed from Turkey’s port of Korfez on Nov. 12 and was headed to India’s Pipavav, according to Marine Traffic. It last transmitted its location on Saturday morning from the middle of the Red Sea, off the coasts of Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Support for the Palestinian cause and hostility toward Israel has long been a pillar of the Houthi narrative. Since the Israeli military began its bombardment of Gaza — responding to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, the Iran-backed armed group that controls Gaza — Houthi leaders have issued repeated threats to enter the fray. Last month, the Houthis claimed an attempted attack on southern Israel and said the group might attack Israeli ships in the Red Sea.
The Houthis took over the Yemeni capital, Sana, in 2014. After an unsuccessful attempt by a Saudi-led military coalition to rout it, the group now rules much of northern Yemen.