On Sunday, the 19th of November, 2023, the Houthi rebels hijacked the Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea due to the vessel's connection with Israel. This article will overview the situation, discuss what happened, and discuss the broader motivations behind the hijacking.
The car carrier, Galaxy Leader, was sailing from Turkey to India when it was hijacked, but the vessel was unladen at the time. NYK Line, a Japanese company, operates the vessel, but Ray Carriers owns the ship itself. The ownership is significant as despite Ray Carriers being registered in the Isle of Man, the company is partly owned by the Israeli billionaire Abraham "Rami" Ungar.
Who Are The Houthis?
The Houthi rebels are a militant group based in Yemen who are fighting in a proxy war against the Saudi-backed government forces for control of the country. The background of this conflict and its relation to maritime security can be found here: https://splash247.com/war-in-yemen-and-risks-to-shipping/.
The term "rebels" usually invokes images of underground guerilla forces, which does not apply to the Houthis. As Iran sponsors them, the Houthi forces have cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles, drones, helicopters and access to specialist training through the Iranian Quds forces. As such, the degree of their sophistication as a rebel faction can be seen in the video of the assault, where a helicopter insertion of forces in tandem with fast attack boats were used to hijack the vessel.
The links to Iran are almost certainly what influenced the incident. Western intelligence sources have claimed that the Quds Force commander, Brigadier General Abdolreza Shahlaei ordered the attack. Furthermore, the vessel's AIS tracking was off during the time of the incidents, leading to suspicions that the Houthis may have relied on Iranian intelligence to locate the vessel for the operation. Given the grey zone warfare between Israel and Iran, which has existed for years, and the recent war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, which Iran supports, the incident is most likely an attack from Iranian proxies against Israeli interests.
Further evidence for this can be identified in the footage of the hijacking, where a Palestinian flag is on the helicopter used for inserting troops, and one Houthi soldier shouted, "Death to the Jews and death to Israel" during the hijacking. The Houthis have also launched multiple cruise missiles towards Israel since the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza, but all have been intercepted.
Overall, we can argue that Iran is responsible for the hijacking, ordering the Houthis to target Iranian interests within their area of operation. This continues the degradation of security in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Oman caused by Houthi operations. The United States is considering a response by redesignating the Houthi rebels as a terrorist organisation following the incident. Vessels in the area should be vigilant and report anything suspicious to relevant parties.
PRO-TECT every Seafarer
Palaemon Maritime's mission is to protect every seafarer on every ship in every high-risk area. We know this is a big, ambitious goal, but we are already working with some big shippers who are just as passionate about crew safety as we are.