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Houthi Commander Welcomes Hijacked Crew to Yemen

Houthi
A Houthi naval forces commander welcomes the crew of the seized car carrier Galaxy Leader (Houthi Military Media)

Published Nov 22, 2023 10:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

Yemen's Houthi rebel group has released new video footage of the hijacked car carrier Galaxy Leader, which was seized by a helicopter-borne Houthi assault team on Sunday. The video shows a senior Houthi commander aboard the ship, meeting with the crew, reassuring them and examining the vessel. 

The Galaxy Leader is operated by Isle of Man-based Ray Car Carriers, a firm with ownership ties to an Israeli shipping magnate. Houthi leaders have promised to target Israel-linked shipping in retaliation for the ongoing Israeli military operation in Gaza, and the group reiterated this threat on Wednesday. 

In the video, the commander is seen shaking hands with the crew and telling them that they will be treated as "guests," and he invites them to ask for anything that they need. The tone marks a change from the hijacking Sunday, which was carried out by heavily-armed militants

17 members of the Galaxy Leader's crew are Filipino, and the Philippines' Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) is in contact to support them and their families. The remaining eight are Bulgarian, Romanian, Ukrainian and Mexican citizens. There are no Israeli nationals aboard, according to the Israeli government. 

Houthi representatives have made assurances that the seafarers will not be harmed, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Eduardo Jose De Vega told the Manila Bulletin. 

Negotiations over the ship's release are reportedly being led by Japan. The vessel was under charter to Japanese shipping conglomerate NYK, and it operated in NYK livery. The carrier reported that Galaxy Leader had no cargo aboard at the time of the boarding. 

Galaxy Leader was operating with AIS turned off for security when she transited past Yemen, but the militants appeared to have no difficulty locating their target. The Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, where Galaxy Leader has been taken, is next to strategic shipping lanes running to and from the Strait of Hormuz. The strait is one of the world's busiest maritime choke points, and the high-traffic area presents many opportunities to interdict merchant ships. 

Houthi forces are supported by the government of Iran, which has provided them with missiles, armed drones and fast attack boats, among other armament. Iran also maintains the surveillance and special-operations support ship Behshad at a semi-permanent anchorage in the Red Sea, next to the main shipping lanes and not far from the hijacking location.