A U.S. Navy warship chased down unidentified pirates attempting to hijack a commercial vessel in waters south of Yemen on Sunday, forcing the would-be hijackers to surrender, the U.S. military said.
The guided-missile destroyer U.S.S. Mason was operating with the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group in the Arabian Gulf to serve U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) efforts to deter further attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East when it received a distress call from a merchant ship, CENTCOM said. The Mason and other allied ships and aircraft, part of a U.S.-led counter-piracy task force based off the Somalian coast, raced toward the M/V Central Park and, upon arrival, demanded the hijackers they found on board the vessel to leave.
Five armed individuals attempted to flee the Central Park using a small boat apparently belonging to them, CENTCOM said.
“The Mason pursued the attackers resulting in their eventual surrender,” the CENTCOM statement read.
It was not clear if the hijackers belonged to the Iran-backed Houthi militant group that controls parts of Yemen. However, the Houthi rebels hijacked another Israel-linked commercial ship, the Galaxy Leader, on Nov. 19.
They have also launched missiles and one-way attack drones at Israel.
Later on Monday, at 1:41 a.m. local time, the Mason and Central Park came under apparent attack, likely by the Houthis, as the Mason was concluding its rescue of the targeted shipping vessel, CENTCOM said. Two ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas headed toward the general location of the vessels in the Gulf of Aden but splashed harmlessly into waters 10 nautical miles from the two ships.
No damage or injuries to personnel were reported during the possible attack, CENTCOM said. The Liberian-flagged Central Park had a crew of 22 on board and was transporting phosphoric acid, according to The Washington Post.
“Maritime domain security is essential to regional stability,” Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM commander, said in the statement. “We will continue to work with allies and partners to ensure the safety and security of international shipping lanes.”
Officials are investigating whether Iran was involved in the hijacking attempt and whether it has any association with the recent escalation in regional tensions since the Israel war on Hamas began on Oct. 7, The New York Times reported.
The Central Park came under attack once before in recent days, according to the NYT. Zodiac Maritime, the company that manages the ship, belongs to Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.
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