A United States Navy destroyer, along with ships from allied nations, rescued an Israeli-owned ship from armed attackers on a small boat Sunday, according to U.S. Central Command (Centcom).
According to Centcom, the commercial vessel M/V Central Park issued a distress call that they were under attack by an unknown entity.
The USS Mason and ships from a U.S.-led counter-piracy task force arrived and demanded the five armed attackers release the vessel. The attackers debarked and attempted to flee in their small boat, but the Mason pursued the attackers until their surrender.
Centcom also said on Monday, as the Mason was concluding its response to the distress call from M/V Central Park, that two ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen “toward the general location of the Mason and the M/V Central Park,” landing approximately 10 nautical miles from the ships. There was no damage or reported injuries.
The ship, which at the time was carrying phosphoric acid, is Liberian-flagged, but is managed by a ship management firm owned by Israel’s Ofer family, according to Al Jazeera.
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Monday that the five armed attackers were currently aboard the USS Mason, and that “initial indications” are that they are Somali and not Houthi.
“We know that they’re not Houthi. Again, we’re continuing to assess the situation,” Ryder said.
The ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen towards an American ship could mark a widening of attacks by the Iran-backed proxy forces against U.S. assets in the region.
Since October 17, Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria have ramped up drone and missile attacks against U.S. bases and troops in Iraq and Syria, but they have not recently fired ballistic missiles towards U.S. ships. Houthi rebels have previously fired missiles towards Israel, but not towards U.S. ships.
Pentagon officials insist the conflict between Israel and Hamas has not spilled over into other countries, despite the more than 60 attacks against U.S. troops.
On Monday, Ryder was reluctant to link the missiles fired near the Mason to the increased attacks on U.S. troops in the region by Iran-proxy forces since the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel on October 7 and the subsequent Israeli offensive with U.S. support.
“We largely see the conflict contained between Israel and Hamas. That’s not to say that — that you haven’t seen Iranian proxies attempt to take advantage to further their own goals,” Ryder said.
The latest hijacking comes after Houthi rebels last week seized a different Israeli-linked cargo ship, taking its 25 crew members hostage.
According to the Associated Press, the Houthi rebels said they hijacked the ship over its connection to Israel and would continue to target ships in international waters that were linked to or owned by Israelis until the end of Israel’s campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
“All ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets,” the Houthis said, according to the AP.
The Houthis’ chief negotiator and spokesman, Mohammed Abdul-Salam, said in an online statement that the Israelis only understand “the language of force,” and that “the detention of the Israeli ship is a practical step that proves the seriousness of the Yemeni armed forces in waging the sea battle, regardless of its costs.”
“This is the beginning,” Abdul-Salam added.
The ship in that attack was Bahaman-flagged and Japanese-operated, but the ship was a vehicle carrier founded by an Israeli billionaire.
Over the last two months, U.S. ships have twice intercepted missiles or drones from Yemen headed towards Israel or posing a threat to U.S. ships.
In October, the USS Carney intercepted three land attack cruise missiles and drones launched by Houthis toward the northern Red Sea, and on November 15, the USS Thomas Hudner shot down a drone over the water.