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Hijacking attempt on Israel-linked ship thwarted by U.S. Navy

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U.S. naval forces on Sunday thwarted the attempted hijacking of a tanker owned by an Israeli billionaire as the vessel transited near Yemen in the Gulf of Aden, according to U.S. officials and the tanker’s parent company.

Five people, all armed, were detained in the incident, according to a news release issued by U.S. Central Command. Officials said the USS Mason, along with other ships and aircraft, responded to a distress call from the M/V Central Park, and that the Mason pursued the unidentified “attackers,” who attempted to flee. The chase ended with their “eventual surrender,” the news release says.

After the attempted hijacking was disrupted, two ballistic missiles were fired toward the Mason and the Central Park from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, officials said. Both missiles landed in the water about 10 nautical miles from the vessels, and no one was injured, the news release says.

A representative for Zodiac Maritime, the British company that manages the Central Park, said the ship’s crew and cargo are safe.

“We would like to thank the coalition forces who responded quickly, protecting assets in the area and upholding international maritime law,” Janni Järvinen, a crisis manager representing Zodiac, wrote in an email.

The attempted seizure of the Central Park, a chemical tanker, came as regional tensions run high amid the war in Gaza. At least two other tankers were similarly attacked in recent incidents believed to be motivated by the conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Gazans, Israeli hostage families brace for return to war as truce ticks down

The Central Park had been transiting a shipping route in the Gulf of Aden — which in the past has been a hub of pirate activity — when it sent the distress call early Sunday, Järvinen said.

There was a crew of 22 onboard, Järvinen said, including Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, Georgian and Philippine nationals. The Liberian-flagged ship was transporting phosphoric acid.

Zodiac Maritime is a brand under Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. The Ofers made their fortune through real estate and shipping, according to Forbes.

Last week, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels said they had seized the Israeli-linked vessel Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea, and they vowed to target ships owned or operated by Israel. Like Hamas, the Yemen-based Houthi rebels are part of a wide network of Tehran-supported armed factions in the Middle East.

In 2021, two people died aboard a Zodiac Maritime oil tanker after the vessel was attacked with an explosive drone during a string of attacks on tankers and other vessels when tensions in the region were high.

Christian Davenport and Kyle Rempfer contributed to this report.

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