Iran-backed Houthi rebels have fired missiles at a US Navy destroyer off the coast of Yemen in a ‘significant escalation’ with American forces in the Middle East.
The USS Mason responded to a distress call on Sunday from an Israeli-linked chemical tanker, named Central Park, in the Gulf of Aden that had been seized by armed rebels.
The rebels, from Yemen’s Houthis, were officially recognized as a terrorist organization in the US under the Trump administration – until Biden removed the militants from the list in 2021.
The tanker, which had been carrying a cargo of phosphoric acid, was identified as the Central Park by the vessel’s company Zodiac Maritime after its seizure on Sunday.
Houthi forces fired two ballistic missiles at the USS Mason after the Navy went to arrested the armed hijackers. USS Mason tracked the missiles – which both fell short by 10 nautical miles and landed in the water.
Pictured: Zodiac Maritime, the tanker Central Park. Attackers seized the tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Aden, Yemen, on Sunday, November 26, 2023, authorities said
Pictured: The USS Mason warship. The vessle responded to a distress call on Sunday from an Israeli-linked commercial chemical tanker, named Central Park, in the Gulf of Aden that had been seized by armed rebels
This has been viewed as a significant escalation, sources told Fox, as it shows Houthi threatening U.S. Navy vessels.
The US Central Command said in a statement: ‘On Nov. 26, the USS MASON (DDG 87), with allied ships from our coalition counter-piracy task force (TF 151), and associated aircraft responded to a distress call from the M/V CENTRAL PARK, a commercial vessel, that they were under attack by an unknown entity. Upon arrival, coalition elements demanded release of the vessel.
‘Subsequently, five armed individuals debarked the ship and attempted to flee via their small boat. The MASON pursued the attackers resulting in their eventual surrender.
‘The crew of the M/V CENTRAL PARK is currently safe. At approximately 0141 on Nov. 27 Sanaa time, two ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi controlled areas in Yemen toward the general location of the USS MASON (DDG 87) and M/V CENTRAL PARK.
‘The missiles landed in the Gulf of Aden approximately ten nautical miles from the ships. The USS MASON (DDG87), which is part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, was concluding its response to the M/V CENTRAL PARK distress call at the time of the missile launches.
‘There was no damage or reported injuries from either vessel during this incident.’
Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, USCENTCOM commander said: ‘Maritime domain security is essential to regional stability.
‘We will continue to work with allies and partners to ensure the safety and security of international shipping lanes.’
It followed a seizure of an Israeli-linked cargo ship by Yemen Houthis, allies of Iran, in the southern Red Sea last week. The group, which also fired ballistic missiles and armed drones at Israel, vowed to target more Israeli vessels.
Central Park, a small chemical tanker 19,998 metric tons, is managed by Zodiac Maritime Ltd, a London-headquartered international ship management company owned by Israel’s Ofer family.
The Liberian-flagged vessel was built in 2015 and is owned by Clumvez Shipping Inc, LSEG data showed.
Zodiac Maritime said in a statement Central Park, which is carrying a full cargo of phosphoric acid, was involved in a suspected piracy incident while crossing international waters, approximately 54 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia.
Phosphoric acid is mostly used for fertilisers.
‘Our priority is the safety of our 22 crew onboard. The Turkish captained vessel has a multinational crew consisting of a crew of Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, Georgian and Filipino nationals,’ the statement said.
‘We would like to thank the coalition forces who responded quickly, protecting assets in the area and upholding international maritime law.’
There was no immediate comment from Houthi officials.
Britain’s Maritime Trade Operations agency said on Sunday it was aware of a possible attack in southwest Aden and called on other vessels to exercise caution.
The U.S. has blamed Iran for unclaimed attacks on several vessels in the region in the past few years. Tehran has denied involvement.
This comes after the Galaxy Leader, a commercial ship, was allegedly illegally boarded by military personnel via a helicopter on November 19.
An Israeli-linked cargo ship hijacked by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels was spotted off the coast of Yemen in satellite images (pictured) earlier this week. This came before the
The Houthis released dramatic footage on Monday (pictured) showing heavily armed men dropping from a helicopter and seizing the cargo ship in the southern Red Sea. This incident came before the USS Mason warship responded to a distress call on Sunday from the commercial tanker, Central Park
Pictured: The Houthi rebels approached the bridge of a different vessel with their guns drawn as crew members on the bridge can be seen holding up their hands in surrender
The vessel was then spotted in the Hodeidah port area in Yemen, the images show.
The Houthis released dramatic footage showing heavily armed men dropping from a helicopter and seizing the cargo ship in the southern Red Sea.
In the clip, Gunmen approached the bridge with their weapons drawn as crew members held up their hands in surrender. One of the fighters was filmed walking through the ship while shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.
The cargo ship was intercepted as it travelled past the Arabian peninsula en-route to India after leaving Turkey. It now appears to have come to a stop off the coast of Yemen, which is around 1,000 miles south of Israel.
It is registered under a British company which is partially owned by Israeli tycoon Abraham Ungar and is currently leased out to a Japanese company.
There is concern for the Bahamas-flagged Galaxy Leader’s crew, which Galaxy Maritime said is made up of nationals from Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Philippines, Mexico and Romania. The vessel is chartered by Japan’s Nippon Yusen.
Galaxy Maritime said: ‘Owners and managers believe the seizure of this vessel represents a gross violation of freedom of passage for the world fleet and a serious threat to international trade.
It added that the ‘key concern at this time is the safety and security of the 25 crew members currently being held by the perpetrators of this criminal act’.