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Aboard the ‘Galaxy Leader,’ Hijacked by Houthis: Where Is the Kidnapped Crew?

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A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request from Soldier of Fortune to offer proof that the hostages are alive.

by Susan Katz Keating

Hostage negotiators face “complex challenges” when trying to learn the fate of the crew that was aboard a Bahamas-flagged cargo ship that was seized on Sunday, security officials said.

“That is key right now, to find out where they are, and how they are,” one Federal hostage negotiator told Soldier of Fortune. The negotiator is not working on the case, but has dealt with other kidnap situations involving armed rebels.

The captured crew serves aboard the Galaxy Leader, a cargo ship that was seized on Nov. 19 as it transited the Red Sea. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed on Nov. 19 that they hijacked the ship that they believed to be an Israeli vessel – a designation that Israel says is not true. 

“This is not an Israeli ship,” the Israel Defense Forces said.

The Tehran-backed Houthis “carried out a military operation in the Red Sea, the results of which were the seizure of an Israeli ship and taking it to the Yemeni coast,” according to a statement on X from Houthi spokesman Yahya Sare’e.

The pirates captured the ship after they rappelled onto the deck from a helicopter, two U.S. defense officials said.

The hijacking comes amid an uptick in piracy and raids worldwide.

Some of the pirates are looters who steal from ships while they are in port. On Thursday, two armed robbers boarded a vessel at anchor off Peru, and stole items from the store. Earlier this month, five knife-wielding robbers raided a ship in the port of Dumai in Indonesia. 

Others attack ships that are underway.

Six knife-wielding men boarded an oil tanker as it sailed the SIngapore Straits on Oct 15. The invaders tied up the crew and covered their heads with cardboard boxes, according to a piracy monitoring site. The robbers stole spare parts for engines.

Also in the SIngapore Straits, several armed robbers on Oct. 22 tied up an engineer, held him hostage, and stole spare parts. 

Overall, there were 99 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the first nine months of 2023, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The group noted increased incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, the Singapore Straits, Indonesia, and South America.

Crew members have been taken hostage, kidnapped, and injured, the group said.

READ MORE about Hijack and Murder on the High Seas

Sunday’s incident involving the Galaxy Leader took place within days of the Houthis threatening Israeli vessels. 

“We will sink your ships,” the group said in a graphic that showed an Israeli commercial ship on fire.

The Houthi spokesman, Yahya Sare’e, announced that the group’s military units will target all ships owned or operated by Israeli companies or carrying the Israeli flag. 

The ship is sailing under the flag of Bahamas, with a home port in Nassau, according to maritime records. The ship was sailing from Turkey to India with an international civilian crew, the IDF said.

There are no citizens from Israel on board, the IDF said.

The ship was sailing from Turkey to India with an international civilian crew, without any Israelis aboard, the IDF said.

As of Sunday afternoon on the U.S. east coast, the ship was underway using engine power, according to a maritime tracking service.

No site, however, is able to trace what became of the kidnapped crew, believed to be held hostage. So far, only the captors seem to know that information.

A Houthi spokesman issued a statement that only referenced the “principle and values” of Islam regarding the crew.

“The Yemeni armed forces deal with the ship’s crew in accordance with the principle and values ​​of our Islamic religion,” Sare’e wrote on X/Twitter.

The spokesman did not immediately respond to a request from Soldier of Fortune to offer proof that the hostages are alive.

Negotiators will try to confirm that the hostages are healthy and well treated, the Federal official said.

In February 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the Biden Administration had removed the Houthis from the U.S. list of officially designated terrorists. 

Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief of Soldier of Fortune.

About Susan Katz Keating

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