The Japanese government has condemned the hijacking of a cargo ship in the Red Sea by Yemeni Houthi rebels and said it is working towards the release of the ship and its captive crew.
At least 25 crew members who were on board the Galaxy Leader vessel have been taken hostage by the Iran-backed rebel group after it seized what it believed to be an Israeli ship.
The Japanese government confirmed the ship was leased and operated by Japanese company Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line) and was transporting cars.
It was intercepted as it travelled past the Arabian peninsula on its way to India after leaving Turkey. The Houthis said they have sailed the ship into Yemen.
“We strongly condemn such acts,” said Japanese chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno in a press conference on Monday.
He said the crew comprises people of various nationalities but there were no Japanese nationals on board.
“Currently, ministries and agencies including the transport ministry and the foreign ministry are gathering information and working with the relevant countries for the early release of the vessel and its crew,” the official said.
The crew members come from Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Philippines, Mexico and Romania.
The confusion over the vessel may have come from the fact that it is registered in the name of a British company and part-owned by an Israeli businessman, according to reports. Ownership details in public shipping databases associated the ship’s owners with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, one of the richest men in Israel, reported the Associated Press.
Blaming Iran for the ship’s capture, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was an “Iranian attack on an international ship”. He said neither the vessel nor the crew aboard it were Israeli.
“It is not an Israeli ship,” the country’s military said on X, calling the capture of the ship a “very grave incident of a global consequence”.
“This is another Iranian act of terrorism that represents an escalation in Iran’s belligerence against the citizens of the free world, with concomitant international ramifications vis-à-vis the security of global shipping routes,” he said.
The Houthis militant group’s spokesperson confirmed the capture of the ship on Sunday night, saying that “all ships belonging to the Israeli enemy or that deal with it will become legitimate targets”.
Yahya Saree wrote on X that the Houthiss will “continue to carry out military operations against the Israeli enemy until the aggression against Gaza stops and the ugly crimes against our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the West Bank stop”.
“If the international community is concerned about regional security and stability, rather than expanding the conflict, it should put an end to Israel’s aggression against Gaza,” he said.