by Susan Katz Keating
A foiled attack on a commercial vessel in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday may have been the work of five Somali pirates, the Pentagon said, while the government of Yemen blamed Houthi rebels.
“We’re continuing to assess, but initial indications are that these five individuals are Somali,” Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said on Monday.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government, meanwhile, said Houthi rebels launched the attack.
“The Yemeni government has renewed its denunciation of the acts of maritime piracy carried out by the terrorist Houthi militias with the support of the Iranian regime, the most recent of which was the hijacking of the Central Park,” the government said in a statement.
Iranian-backed Houthi militants have remained silent about a foiled attack on a tanker off the coast of Yemen, where the U.S. Navy on Sunday captured the would-be pirates. The militants also have said nothing about two off-course missiles that were fired at the rescue ship.
Confusion surrounding who launched the attack will take “some unraveling,” a western intelligence official told Soldier of Fortune.
“The Houthis like to boast, but here they are staying mum,” the official said. “So are the Somali pirates. Each might want to blame the other. You can’t really boast about a fiasco.”
READ MORE: ‘We Will Attack American Warships,’ Houthi Agent Tells Soldier of Fortune Publisher
The would-be pirates attacked the Liberian-flagged Central Park on Sunday in the Gulf of Aden, but abandoned ship when the U.S. Navy intervened, according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
The incident unfolded when the Navy received a distress call Nov. 26 from the civilian vessel, saying it was being attacked by unknown assailants.
“[The Central Park] was boarded by these five individuals,” Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon. “They attempted to access the crew cabin. The crew, essentially, [was] able to lock themselves into a safe haven. These individuals attempted to access and take control of the ship.”
The USS Mason and allied ships and aircraft responded to the distress call.
“Upon arrival, coalition elements demanded release of the vessel,” CENTCOM officials said in a statement. “Subsequently, five armed individuals debarked the ship and attempted to flee via their small boat. The Mason pursued the attackers resulting in their eventual surrender.”
While the rescue was concluding, two ballistic missiles were fired toward the Mason and the Central Park from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, CENTCOM said.
“The missiles landed in the Gulf of Aden approximately 10 nautical miles from the ships,” CENTCOM said, adding that the strikes caused no damage or injuries.
The attack on the Central Park occurred several hours after a Houthi agent told Soldier of Fortune publisher Susan Katz Keating that his group will attack American warships in the Red Sea, aided by collaborators on board the vessels. Additionally, the agent said that Houthis are behind the Nov. 25 drone attack on the Malta-flagged CMA CGM Symi.
The agent, who uses the handle @Mhmmd_taher, made these and other comments on the X social media platform in response to questions posed by Keating.
The exchange unfolded in English and Arabic, with the participants using Google Translate to read one another’s messages. The conversation continued for more than an hour before the Yemeni abruptly deleted several posts.
Following the incident on Sunday, Yemen’s internationally recognized government blamed the Houthi rebels.
The rebels remained silent, neither accepting nor rejecting blame.
Somali pirates could not be reached for comment.
Keating asked the Houthi agent if his group carried out the attack.
In Arabic, he responded: “We have a military spokesman who announces any operations carried out by our forces, and he is @army21ye Brigadier General Yahya Sarie.”
The spokesman did not respond to a question from Soldier of Fortune.
The spokesman, Yahya Sare’e, previously announced that the group’s military units will target all ships owned or operated by Israeli companies or carrying the Israeli flag.
The Central Park is believed to be connected to an Israeli billionaire, and is managed by Zodiac Maritime, based in the United Kingdom.
“We would like to thank the coalition forces who responded quickly, protecting assets in the area and upholding international maritime law,” the company said.
The Pentagon’s Ryder told reporters that U.S. Navy personnel fired warning shots when the attackers were trying to escape, but there were no injuries.
Three Chinese military ships in the area did not respond to the distress call from the Central Park, Ryder said.
China’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The attack on the Central Park comes after a container ship, CMA CGM Symi, owned by an Israeli billionaire, was hit Friday by an Iranian-made drone in the Indian Ocean.
Both the Symi and the Central Park had switched off their Automatic Identification System trackers, according to data from MarineTraffic.com. Ships keep the trackers switched on for security, but crews turn them off if it appears they might be targeted.
Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief of Soldier of Fortune.