Japan confirms Nippon Yusen ship seized by Houthi group
YUKANA INOUE STAFF WRITER
The Japan Times
Japan confirmed Monday that a cargo ship operated by major Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen was seized in the Red Sea by the Iran-linked Houthi armed group, following an initial report by the Israeli military on Sunday. “We have received reports that the Bahamas-registered car carrier ship Galaxy Leader, which Nippon Yusen operates, was seized yesterday by a Houthi armed group while traveling south near Yemen,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said at a news conference Monday. “We strongly condemn such activity.” Matsuno confirmed that there were no Japanese crew members aboard the ship. The ship operated by Nippon Yusen, better known as NYK Line, had a total of 25 crew, with members hailing from Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Philippines, Mexico and Romania. Regarding the seizure, the Houthi group was quoted by Al-Jazeera as saying that it had captured the vessel in response to “heinous acts against our Palestinian brothers in Gaza and the West Bank.” The group had warned other countries to stay out of the area, saying they would target all ships with relations to Israel. However, the Israeli prime minister’s office stated that the vessel was not an Israeli ship and did not have any Israeli crew. The Israel Defense Forces said that the hijacking was a “very grave incident of global consequence.” The Houthis are a rebel group in Yemen widely thought to be backed by Iran. In the past, they have launched attacks against southern Israel, and their capture of an international cargo ship raises concerns about the impact on global logistics. Japan is currently gathering information, including through the Foreign Ministry and the transport ministry, and is working toward the release of the detained crew members in conjunction with related countries. Matsuno stated that Japan is simultaneously attempting to talk with Israel as well as directly contacting the Houthis while also appealing to the associated parties of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran. Staff writer Gabriele Ninivaggi contributed to this report.