Assailants in Latest Ship Attack Near Yemen Were Likely Somali, Not Houthi Rebels, Pentagon Says

Zodiac Maritime via AP
In an undated photo released by Zodiac Maritime, the tanker Central Park is seen. Attackers seized the tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Aden, Yemen, on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, authorities said.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The five armed assailants captured by U.S. forces after seizing a commercial ship near Yemen over the weekend were likely Somali and not Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the Pentagon said Monday.

Recent attacks on commercial vessels have been conducted by Houthis, seen as part of a rise in violence in the region due to the Israel-Hamas war.

While the Pentagon was still assessing the motives of the latest group, “we know they are not Houthi,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters. He didn’t rule out that the rebels were somehow linked to the attack.

While piracy in the region is down, this “was clearly a piracy-related event,” Ryder said.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government in Aden had accused the Houthis of attacking the MV Central Park in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday.

The Liberian-flagged tanker, managed by Zodiac Maritime, sent out a distress call and forces from the USS Mason, an American destroyer, responded.

The five assailants attempted to flee in their small boats, but the U.S. forces pursued them and fired warning shots, “resulting in their eventual surrender,” Ryder said. They were being held aboard the Mason, he said.

However, a little over 90 minutes later, two ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled Yemen landed about 10 nautical miles (18 nautical kilometers) from the Mason. The U.S. destroyer did not engage or try to intercept the missiles because they were not deemed a threat and splashed into the water, Ryder said.

He said it was still not clear whether the ballistic missiles were aiming for the Mason.

Ryder said there were three Chinese vessels in the area at the time but they did not respond to the Central Park’s distress call. The Chinese government has not acknowledged whether it had ships in the area at the time of the attack. According to international maritime law, any ship in the vicinity is required to respond to a distress call.