Israeli-Linked Tanker Captured and Released in Gulf of Aden

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An unidentified group has seized an Israeli-linked chemical tanker in the Gulf of Aden, about 30 nm off Yemen’s southern coast, according to security consultancy Ambrey.

The tanker Central Park was boarded and captured by unknown attackers on Sunday, according to UKMTO. An American defense official has confirmed the attack to the Associated Press, and Zodiac also confirmed the incident in a statement, calling it a suspected act of “piracy.” 

In a later statement early Monday morning, Zodiac said that the attackers had let the vessel go on its way, and that the crew and ship 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. 

Yemen’s Houthi rebel faction has repeatedly threatened to attack vessels with ties to Israel. The Central Park is managed by Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer’s ship management company, London-based Zodiac Maritime. The company has previously emphasized that it is a UK-based and registered firm, with all employees in the UK and offices in the UK. 

The ship’s crewmembers include Turkish, Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, Georgian and Filipino nationals, according to Zodiac. The firm said that the tanker has a full cargo of phosphoric acid.

Central Park was on an eastbound voyage at the time of the incident, and had previously transited past the coast of Houthi-controlled northern Yemen. Ambrey reported that the ship had received radio communications from Houthi forces and an instruction to divert to the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, which it did not obey. 

Earlier Sunday, UKMTO said that it had received a report of two black and white boats approaching a merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden in a concerning manner, with “one small craft on each quarter.” The boats were said to be carrying eight people in military clothing. The reported position of this threat was about 40 nm to the southeast of the Central Park incident. 

This region is far from the usual Red Sea area of operations for Yemen’s Houthi rebel group, which seized an Israeli-linked car carrier off Hodeidah last week. Sunday’s incident occurred on the other side of Bab el-Mandeb, off the town of Qawah in southern Yemen. This is an area controlled by the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), which is at war with the Houthi faction.

As of Sunday, no group has taken responsibility for the incident aboard the Central Park. 

In years past, the Gulf of Aden and the Western Indian Ocean were a hotspot for Somali pirate attacks on foreign-flag merchant shipping. The pirate threat has been largely quiescent for the past 10 years – but security consultancies have warned that it could bounce back. There are signs of recent revival: on Friday, a Somali militia seized a foreign-flag commercial fishing vessel off Puntland and demanded a $400,000 ransom. However, this known pirate boarding occurred far from Yemen, roughly 450 nm to the east of the Central Park incident.

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