The United States on Monday denounced the seizure of a cargo ship in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi movement as a violation of international law and demanded the immediate release of the ship and its crew.
“The Houthi seizure of the motor ship Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea is a clear violation of international law,” State Leavement spokesman Matthew Miller told a briefing. “We demand the immediate release of the ship and its crew and will consult with our allies and UN partners regarding the appropriate next steps.”
The British-owned and Japanese-run merchant ship was “illegally boarded by military personnel via helicopter” on Sunday and is now in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, the ship’s owner said on Monday.
A video shows armed men seizing a ship
“All communication was subsequently lost with the ship,” the Isle of Man ship’s owner, Galaxy Maritime Ltd., said in a statement.
“The company, as a shipping concern, will not comment further on the political or geopolitical situation,” he said.
Houthis released video footage on Monday showing armed men dropping from a helicopter and seizing the cargo ship in the southern Red Sea, which they describe as Israeli.
The Houthis have been launching long-range missile and drone salvos into Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian Hamas militants fighting in the Gaza Strip.
There were no Israelis on board the Galaxy Leader, operated by Japanese transport company Nippon Yusen, also known as NYK Line, with crew from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Mexico and possibly Romania.
Japan negotiates with Houthi rebels
Public shipping databases linked the ship’s owners to Ray Car Carriers, a company founded by Abraham Ungar, who is known as one of the richest people in Israel.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, said Japan was negotiating with the Houthi rebels, while also communicating with Israel and cooperating with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran to free the ship and its crew.
NYK Line said the Galaxy Leader was seized off the Yemeni coast en route to India. NYK chartered the vessel from its British owner, Galaxy Maritime Ltd. NYK said the ship had no cargo at the time of the hijacking.
“The owners and managers believe that the seizure of this vessel represents a serious violation of the freedom of navigation of the world fleet and a serious threat to international trade,” Galaxy Maritime said.
He added that the “key concern at the moment is the safety of the 25 crew members who are currently being held by the perpetrators of this criminal act.”