(Bloomberg) -- A chemical tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire was freed by a US warship after attackers boarded the vessel in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday.
The Liberian-flagged Central Park “was involved in a suspected piracy incident” about 54 miles (87 kilometers) off Somalia, according to Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. The company and the US military said the crew is safe and weren’t harmed.
The USS Mason, a destroyer, had responded to a distress call from the Central Park, which said it was under attack from an unknown entity, US Central Command said on Monday morning.
“Five armed individuals debarked the ship and attempted to flee via their small boat,” Centcom said on X. “The Mason pursued the attackers resulting in their eventual surrender.”
Later, around 2:40 a.m. Dubai time on Monday, two missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Mason and the Central Park. They landed about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the ships and there was no damage to either vessel, Centcom said.
Although the attackers were suspected to be Somalis, it was “clearly a piracy incident,” Brigadier General Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters.
Still, the incident underscores the rise in tensions in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes since the start of the Israel-Hamas war last month. The Houthis, an Iran-backed rebel group based in Yemen, support Hamas and have fired missiles toward Israel in recent weeks. They’ve also threatened Israeli ships and, on Nov. 19, seized a vehicle carrier called the Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea. It’s yet to be released.
The group had warned the Central Park that it would attack if it didn’t change course to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.
“Maritime domain security is essential to regional stability,” said General Michael Erik Kurilla, Centcom’s commander. “We will continue to work with allies and partners to ensure the safety and security of international shipping lanes.”
Read: UK Navy: Vessel Approached in South of Yemen, Crew Safe
Zodiac said the Central Park had a 22-member crew from six countries, under the command of a Turkish captain. The vessel is carrying phosphoric acid, it said.
The UK Maritime Trade Operations said it was “aware that a vessel was boarded by unauthorized persons” and advised ships in the vicinity to exercise caution.
Read more: Why Yemen’s Houthi Rebels Are Taking Aim at Israel: QuickTake
The Houthis’ territories are well-positioned to target vessels transiting from the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea and on to Egypt’s Suez Canal, which links the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
--With assistance from Galit Altstein and Tony Capaccio.
(Updates with Pentagon comment in fourth paragraph)
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