An unidentified group of attackers seized an Israel-linked tanker off the coast of Yemen on Sunday.
A US Navy warship responded to a distress call and secured the seized ship, an official said.
Zodiac Maritime, which manages the ship, said the seizure was a "suspected piracy incident."
Attackers seized a tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Yemen on Sunday, authorities said. While no group immediately claimed responsibility, it comes after at least two other maritime attacks in recent days have been linked to the Israel-Hamas war.
The attackers seized the Liberian-flagged Central Park, managed by Zodiac Maritime, in the Gulf of Aden, the company and private intelligence firm Ambrey said. An American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, confirmed to The Associated Press that the attack took place.
Zodiac called the seizure "a suspected piracy incident."
"Our priority is the safety of our 22 crew onboard," Zodiac said in a statement. "The Turkish-captained vessel has a multinational crew consisting of a crew of Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, Georgian and Filipino nationals. The vessel is carrying a full cargo of phosphoric acid."
A US Navy warship responded to a distress call from the tanker and secured the ship, US officials told Reuters.
Zodiac described the vessel as being owned by Clumvez Shipping Inc., though other records directly linked Zodiac as the owner. London-based Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group. British corporate records listed two men with the last name Ofer as a current and former director of Clumvez Shipping, including Daniel Guy Ofer, also a director at Zodiac Maritime.
It wasn't immediately clear who was behind the attack. Nearby Aden is held by forces allied to Yemen's internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led coalition that has battled Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for years. In theory, that part of the Gulf of Aden is controlled by those forces and is relatively distant from Houthi-controlled territory in the country. Somali pirates also are not known to operate in that area.
The US defense official said that it appeared "an unknown number of unidentified armed individuals" seized the ship.
One senior US official told Fox News Chief National Security Correspondent Jennifer Griffin that five gunmen were involved in the attempted hijacking.
Crew members of the Central Park tanker locked themselves in the ship's safe room for safety, the official told Griffin. The gunmen failed to beat the door down.
NEW Senior U.S. official:
US Navy personnel from the USS Mason responded to a distress call from the crew onboard an Israeli linked tanker. 5 armed gunmen tried to hijack the ship in Gulf of Aden. US Navy pursued toward Yemen. Warning shots fired. Gunmen now being interrogated.
— Jennifer Griffin (@JenGriffinFNC) November 26, 2023
The gunmen exited the vehicle and were sailing back to Yemen shores when US Navy personnel made the arrest, Griffin reported.
"US and coalition forces responded to a distress call from the M/V Central Park. The crew of the M/V Central Park is currently safe," a US defense official told Business Insider.
The official did not address questions regarding the details of the incident, including whether 5 armed gunmen were involved in the attack and if Chinese Navy ships were near the area.
Zodiac Maritime has been targeted previously amid a wider yearslong shadow war between Iran and Israel. In 2021, a drone attack assessed by the US and other Western nations to have been carried out by Iran killed two crew members aboard Zodiac's oil tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman.
The British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, had earlier warned sailors that "two black-and-white craft carrying eight persons in military-style clothing" had been seen in the area. It issued another warning, saying that radio traffic suggested a possible attack had occurred before acknowledging the seizure.
The UKMTO put the ship's location over 60 kilometers (35 miles) south of Yemen's coast, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Djibouti, and about 110 kilometers (70 miles) northeast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping route.
The Central Park seizure comes after a container ship, CMA CGM Symi, owned by another Israeli billionaire, came under attack Friday by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean. Iran has not acknowledged carrying out the attack, nor did it respond to questions from the AP about that assault.
Both the Symi and the Central Park had been behaving as if they faced a threat in recent days.
The ships had switched off their Automatic Identification System trackers, according to data from MarineTraffic.com analyzed by the AP. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS active for safety reasons, but crews will turn them off if they appear to be targeted. In Central Park's case, the vessel had last transmitted four days ago after it left the Suez Canal heading south into the Red Sea.
The attacks come as global shipping increasingly finds itself targeted in the weekslong war that threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even as a truce has halted fighting and Hamas exchanges hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
With the Israel-Hamas war — which began with the militant Palestinian group's October 7 attack — raging on, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship in the Red Sea off Yemen. The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the seizure of the Central Park.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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