Attackers seized and later let go a tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Yemen, authorities said.
The attackers seized on Sunday the Liberian-flagged Central Park, managed by Zodiac Maritime, in the Gulf of Aden, the company and private intelligence firm Ambrey said. An American defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, also confirmed to The Associated Press that the attack took place.
Early Monday morning, Zodiac said the vessel carrying phosphoric acid and its crew of 22 sailors from Bulgaria, Georgia, India, the Philippines, Russia, Türkiye and Vietnam were “unharmed.”
"We would like to thank the coalition forces who responded quickly, protecting assets in the area and upholding international maritime law,” the company said. It offered no details on how the attackers left the vessel, nor identified them.
Zodiac described the vessel as being owned by Clumvez Shipping Inc., though other records directly linked Zodiac as the owner. London-based Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. British corporate records listed two men with the last name Ofer as a current and former director of Clumvez Shipping, including Daniel Guy Ofer, who is also a director at Zodiac Maritime.
Yemen's Houthi rebels, who have controlled the capital, Sanaa, since 2014, offered no comment on the seizure. However, Yemen's internationally recognised government, which is based out of nearby Aden, blamed the rebels for the attack in a statement carried by their state-run news agency.
“The Yemeni government has renewed its denunciation of the acts of maritime piracy carried out by the terrorist Houthi militias with the support of the Iranian regime, the most recent of which was the hijacking of the Central Park,” the statement read.
Drone attack killed two crew members
The US military's Central Command and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The attack happened in a part of the Gulf of Aden that is in theory is under the control of that government's forces and is fairly distant from Houthi-controlled territory in the country. Somali pirates are not known to operate in that area.
Zodiac Maritime has been targeted previously amid a wider yearslong shadow war between Iran and Israel. In 2021, a drone attack assessed by the US and other Western nations to have been carried out by Iran killed two crew members aboard Zodiac's oil tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, had earlier issued a warning to sailors that “two black-and-white craft carrying eight persons in military-style clothing” had been seen in the area.
The UKMTO put the Central Park's location over 60 kilometres (35 miles) south of Yemen's coast, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of Djibouti and around 110 kilometres (70 miles) northeast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping route.
The Central Park seizure comes after a container ship, CMA CGM Symi, owned by another Israeli billionaire came under attack Friday by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean.
Iran has not acknowledged carrying out the attack, nor did it respond to questions from the AP about that assault.
Both the Symi and the Central Park had been behaving as if they faced a threat in recent days.