Monday, July 15, 2024

The U.S. Navy intervened to stop the hijacking of a commercial cargo ship by pirates in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia on Sunday, according to American defense officials.

Sailors from the U.S.S. Mason, a Navy destroyer, captured the attackers who had boarded the Central Park, a chemical tanker, a senior defense official said.

Zodiac Maritime, the London-based company that manages the vessel, said that the ship and crew are now safe and unharmed, but provided few details. The ship’s crew had issued a distress call on Sunday reporting they were under attack by pirates, as they passed through the Gulf of Aden, about 54 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, according to Zodiac Maritime.

U.S. officials cautioned much is not known about the incident, including whether Iran was involved or if it was an attack unrelated to the regional tensions that have intensified since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran in the war in Yemen, attacked several commercial vessels last week in the Red Sea — a body of water next to the Gulf of Aden — including the Central Park.

Officials said it is not clear if the attackers were the same group that attempted to take the ship earlier. While the Houthi rebels struck in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden where the Central Park was attacked is far from their area of operations. One U.S. official and one former Pentagon official said Iranian involvement in the operation is being investigated.

American defense officials said the U.S. Navy and other coalition ships responded to the distress call Sunday. The senior defense official said another piracy attempt had been made against the ship in recent days off the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea.

The attackers boarded the ship, but were not able to take the crew, who had locked themselves in a safe room.

The Navy rescue of the Central Park was earlier reported by Jennifer Griffin, a reporter with Fox News.

Zodiac Maritime is controlled by Eyal Ofer, an Israeli-born shipping magnate.

There are 22 crew members aboard the Central Park. The crew includes Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, Georgian, Filipino nationals and the ship has a Turkish captain, the company said.

Iran has varying level of control over a wide variety of proxy groups in the region, including the Houthis in Yemen. The former Pentagon official said even before the attack on the Central Park, the Pentagon and Biden administration officials had been discussing what more needs to be done to deter Iran from additional attacks on shipping or commerce.

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