Israeli vessel’s capture reignites fears over West Asia shipping

By Shoko Oda

An Israeli-owned ship seized in the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in retaliation for the war in Gaza is raising fears of widespread disruption to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The Galaxy Leader, owned by part of Israeli businessman Rami Ungar’s Ray Shipping Group, was captured in the southern part of the Red Sea on Sunday. A spokesman for the Houthis said Israeli ships will continue to be targeted until the military operation against Hamas ends.

Ships have often become entangled in tensions between different groups in West Asia, sometimes disrupting the flow of energy and other goods. The Houthis have claimed regular attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Oman. They have also attacked locations in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles – including in 2019 when they briefly shut down half of the kingdom’s oil production.

But the oil market on Monday shrugged off the latest seizure of the ship used to transport vehicles as traders focused on a key OPEC meeting this weekend. Natural gas in Europe initially rose, but had to give up some of its gains.

The Houthis said on Sunday they had taken the ship to the Yemeni coast. Tokyo-based Nippon Yusen KK, which chartered the ship, said it was unaware of the current location of the ship, which has a crew of 25 and is not carrying cargo.

Iran denied any role in the seizure, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani saying resistance groups in the Middle East make and implement their own decisions based on their own interests.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office condemned the action. The action in the Red Sea represents a “significant escalation of tensions,” said Bloomberg Intelligence shipping and logistics analyst Kenneth Loh.

First print: November 20, 2023 | 11:33 PM IST