Houthi Red Sea Ship Seizure Sparks Global Outrage

Saeed Al-Batati

Yemen’s government, the EU, the UK and several other Western countries condemned the Houthi assault on the Galaxy Leader ship in the Red Sea this week, accusing the militia of endangering international maritime traffic.

Yemeni Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani called the Houthi hijacking a “full-fledged crime of piracy” and “state terrorism” that had no bearing on Israel’s war in Gaza. He called for the Houthis to be “named and shamed” for endangering maritime navigation in the Red Sea.

“This terrorist act does not have any direct or indirect impact on the brutal Israeli occupation. Rather, it directly affects the international trade movement in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, Suez Canal and the economies of the riparian countries,” Al-Eryani said.

The Houthis on Sunday announced the seizure of the ship, which they said is owned by an Israeli businessman. The seizure is retribution for Israel’s shelling of Gaza, the militia said, adding that the vessel will be rerouted to the port of Hodeidah, which they control.

“Threats to international navigation and maritime security are unacceptable. We call for the immediate release of the ship and its crew,” the EU mission in Yemen said on X.

The British government harshly condemned the Houthi assault and demanded that the militia “immediately” and “unconditionally” free the ship and its crew. The British government accused Iran of pressuring its proxy groups, including the Houthis, to target ships in the region.

“Iran has long provided military and political support to the Houthis. We have made it clear to Iran that it bears responsibility for the actions of its proxies and partners. Iran must actively restrain these groups to prevent the conflict escalating across the region,” the UK government said in a statement.

The Houthis responded to worldwide criticism by threatening more assaults on Israeli-owned ships and any other vessels managed by Israel that transit through the Red Sea.

Yemen’s ambassador to the UK, Yaseen Saeed Noman, has warned that Houthi “piracy” will harm the country’s economy and prevent Yemen from profiting from its advantageous geographical positions on the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. “Yemen is a country whose main economic pillar is the sea. As part of a series of systematic damage operations against the nation, the Houthis are driving it into piracy,” he said on Facebook.

At the same time, Yemeni government officials and experts argue that if the Yemeni government had been permitted to gain control of Hodeidah in late 2018, the Houthis would not have used the country’s western beaches on the Red Sea to launch assaults on ships.

Five years ago, the Yemeni government came under intense international pressure to halt its military attack on the city of Hodeidah and accept the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement.

Many governments and international relief groups warned at the time that if fighting reached Hodeidah, many Yemenis would starve, since the majority of the country’s food and humanitarian supplies pass through the city’s port.

“The Houthis would not have threatened security in the Red Sea if they were not allowed to keep Hodeidah seaport in the first place,” Nadwa Dawsari, a conflict expert and a non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, said on X.