The US military said it thwarted a ship hijacking in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia on Monday as tensions continue to rise in the region due to Israel’s campaign in Gaza.
US Central Command said in a press release that the destroyer USS Mason and allied ships responded to a distress call from the Central Park, a chemical tanker owned by Zodiac Marine, a company chaired by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.
CENTCOM said five armed individuals attempted to flee the scene on a small boat but were detained by the US military. Hours after the incident, CENTCOM said two ballistic missiles were fired at the USS Mason from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen but landed in the Gulf of Aden 10 nautical miles away from the US warship.
The Houthis, known formally as Ansar Allah, seized an Israeli-linked tanker last week, but the Pentagon said on Monday that the attackers of the Central Park were likely Somali and not Houthi. “We know they are not Houthi,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said.
While not responsible for the Central Park attack, the Houthis have vowed to target Israeli ships in the region and have fired missiles and drones at Israeli territory in response to the Israeli onslaught in Gaza. The Houthis have also shot down a US MQ-9 Reaper drone that was flying near Yemen.
In response to the Houthi activity, the US has said it’s considering redesignating the Zaydi Shia group as a “terrorist organization” despite the impact the move would have on Yemeni civilians.
The White House condemned last week’s ship seizure by the Houthis as “piracy of a ship in international waters.” However, the US frequently seizes ships in the name of sanctions enforcement and has repeatedly stolen Iranian gas and oil shipments in recent years.