Houthis hijack ship in major global shipping lane

Yemen’s Houthi rebels have released footage of their Sunday hijacking of a cargo ship in the Red Sea’s international waters off Yemen.

The term ‘rebels’ implies a ragtag outfit, but Houthi capabilities include aircraft, drones, missiles, and troop estimates reaching up to 200,000 (the decentralised group draws on Yemen’s broader Houthi tribe, making precise numbers tricky).

The Iran-backed Houthis say they hijacked the massive Galaxy Leader ship in response to Israel’s “heinous acts against our Palestinian brothers”.

And the potential ripple effects here are big.

First, this vessel is a classic illustration of global shipping today. It was reportedly:

  • 🇯🇵 Japan-operated
  • 🇬🇷 Greece-managed
  • 🇧🇸 Bahamas-flagged
  • 🇮🇲 Isle of Mann (UK)-registered
  • 🇮🇱 Part-owned by Rami Ungar (an Israeli billionaire)
  • 🇹🇷-🇮🇳 Travelling from Turkey to India, and
  • 🇧🇬🇷🇴🇺🇦🇲🇽🇵🇭 Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Mexico and Philippines-crewed (all 25 of whom are now held hostage in Yemen’s Hodeidah port area).

That’s a lot of capitals now paying attention.

Second, the list of capitals paying attention gets longer when you consider that a fifth of the world’s oil passes through this chokepoint. At least two cargo ships have now diverted, and many were already diverting from the Panama Canal, where a drought has cut shipping capacity. Now, going the long way around Africa adds another 26 days to the trip. And this all puts pressure on global trade.

Third, it’s a reminder for Israel that its actions in Gaza will continue to face blowback around the world.

For now, Israel and the US are blaming Iran, which is denying any role, while Japan is making direct contact with the Houthis and urging others to help. France also pointed out that none of this helps Yemen’s impoverished people.


Given the critical importance of this waterway, the hijacking will inevitably draw more international naval assets to the region, raising the stakes higher.

And this, all just as Israel and Hamas agree to hit pause.

Also worth noting:

  • The US is reportedly reviewing whether to restore the Houthi rebels to the US terrorist list, after removing them from the blacklist in 2021 to assist with humanitarian assistance to Yemen. 
  • After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Houthis adopted the slogan, “God is great, death to the U.S., death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam”. A Houthi politburo member tweeted the same motto on Sunday.
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