US says Somali pirates likely behind attempted tanker seizure near Yemen

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An undated photo released by Zodiac Maritime shows the tanker Central Park, which a group of armed attackers attempted to hijack in a raid on November 26 [Zodiac Maritime via AP]

The United States has said that a group of attackers who tried to seize an Israel-linked cargo ship over the weekend were probably Somali pirates rather than Houthi fighters from nearby Yemen.

Speaking on Monday, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder noted that the US has not ruled out a Houthi connection to the attempted hijacking by five armed men over the weekend.

“We’re continuing to assess, but initial indications that these five individuals are Somali,” said Ryder.

“Clearly a piracy-related incident,” he added.

US Navy forces thwarted the capture of the tanker Central Park over the weekend after it was boarded by armed men, who were captured after the US warship Mason arrived on the scene.

The attempted hijacking comes at a time when Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have carried out a series of raids on ships in the region, and the US said ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled territory in the direction of US ships shortly after the attack.

 The Houthis have consolidated control over large swathes of northern Yemen and emerged as a growing force in the region after a yearslong war with the country’s government and a coalition of forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

While fighting in Yemen has become more subdued over the last year, the Houthis have launched several attacks on Israel amid ongoing fighting between Israel and the Palestinian armed group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Missile and drone attacks launched towards Israel have largely failed, but the group has seized commercial ships in the Red Sea that they say have connections to Israel.

Following one such seizure earlier this month, the US said that it was considering redesignating the Houthis as a “terrorist” organization.

The Pentagon has said that the ballistic missiles fired over the weekend were launched in the general direction of the US ships, but that they fell into the ocean about 19km (10 nautical miles) away from the vessels and did not result in any injuries.

Yemen’s government in Aden placed blame on the Houthis for the attack, but the group did not acknowledge either the missile launch or the attempted vessel seizure.

The Central Park is managed by Zodiac Maritime Ltd, a London-headquartered international ship management firm, owned by Israel’s Ofer family.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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