November 30, 2023

Japan has approached Yemeni rebels in a bid to secure the release of the Galaxy Leader, hijacked in Red Sea.

Japan says it is “directly approaching” the Houthi rebels who have hijacked a cargo ship in the Red Sea.

Tokyo said on Monday that it is also “communicating with Israel” as it seeks to secure the release of the Galaxy Leader. The ship is owned by an Israeli businessman and operated by a Japanese firm.

The Yemeni rebel group attacked the vessel the previous day while it was to India from Turkey in response, it said, to the “heinous acts” being committed by Israel in Gaza.

The Japanese government has “strongly condemned” the seizure of the ship, which is operated by Nippon Yusen (NYK Line). Tokyo has urged other concerned countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Oman, to participate in persuading the rebels to release the vessel and hostages soon.

Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa said Tokyo was “communicating with Israel, and in addition to directly approaching the Houthis, we are also urging Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran and other countries concerned to strongly urge the Houthis for the early release of the vessel and crew members”.

“Our government will continue to take necessary measures in cooperation with the countries concerned while taking into account the situation,” she added.

Maritime consequences

Israel was quick to blame the attack on an “Iranian act of terrorism”, saying it will be echoed with consequences for international maritime security.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Nasser Kanaani on Monday denied Iran’s involvement in the seizure of the ship, which Israel has claimed is British-owned and Japanese-operated.

After the attack, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree posted on X, “If the international community is concerned about regional security and stability, rather than expanding the conflict, it should put an end to Israel’s aggression against Gaza.”

The vehicle transport ship was manned at the time of the attack by a 25-person international crew, including Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Filipinos and Mexicans, but no Israelis, according to Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel was not involved in the ship’s ownership, operation or the makeup of its international crew, although the parent carrier company belongs to Israeli businessman Abraham “Rami” Ungar, according to records.

The Houthis have launched several missile and drone attacks against Israel since October 7, when an attack by Hamas inside Israel prompted an Israeli ground and air offensive on Gaza.

Last week, the Iran-aligned Houthis said they could target Israeli ships in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Saree renewed the warning that any ship belonging to Israel or those who support it will be a legitimate target for Houthi forces.

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