Central Park oil tanker
Central Park oil tanker
Another suspected piracy incident is unfolding this time in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen on Sunday, as multiple news agencies are reporting that an Israel-linked oil tanker has been boarded by unknown militants. The emerging headlines have surprisingly thus far had little observable impact on oil prices, at a moment of growing security concerns and fears for international shipping in Mideast and Gulf regional waters.

Comment: Maybe the international financial community appreciate that the Houthis have explicitly stated that it's only Israeli-linked ships that they're targeting? Lest we forget the US has been seizing Iranian-linked vessels over the past year and the international community weren't too concerned - that's not to say, however, that this situation won't escalate.

At least 22 crew of the Liberian-flagged Central Park, managed by Zodiac Maritime, are now believed to be held hostage. The Associated Press reports, "Attackers seized a tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Yemen on Sunday, authorities said. While no group immediately claimed responsibility, it comes as at least two other maritime attacks in recent days have been linked to the Israel-Hamas war." If done by the Houthis, this marks the first such piracy attack from Yemen during the Gaza truce which has successfully held, which went into effect Friday.

Comment: Israel has not been abiding by the truce, and at least one Houthi official stated that they would not abide by the truce either.

Information about the tanker:

The AP report further cites "An American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, also confirmed to The Associated Press that the attack took place." Ship manager Zodiac Maritime described the seizure as "a suspected piracy incident."

US naval forces appear to be en route, given the US defense official was further quoted as saying "US and coalition forces are in the vicinity and we are closely monitoring the situation" after "an unknown number of unidentified armed individuals" seized the ship.

Maritime and private intelligence firm Ambrey said that "U.S. naval forces are engaged in the situation and have asked vessels to stay clear of the area."

Comment: It seems the US is relatively powerless to stop them at the moment.

Below is what has become known so far of the vessel's ownership:
Zodiac described the vessel as being owned by Clumvez Shipping Inc., though other records directly linked Zodiac as the owner. London-based Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group. British corporate records listed two men with the last name Ofer as a current and former director of Clumvez Shipping, including Daniel Guy Ofer, who is also a director at Zodiac Maritime.

It wasn't immediately clear who was behind the attack. Nearby Aden is held by forces allied to Yemen's internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led coalition that has battled Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for years. That part of the Gulf of Aden in theory is under the control of those forces and is fairly distant from Houthi-controlled territory in the country. Somali pirates also are not known to operate in that area.
Given the location, and recent hostile incidents, the Iran-linked Houthis out of Yemen are the prime suspects for this newest ship hijacking....

This marks the second commercial ship hijacking since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. The Houthis on Nov. 21 seized an Israeli-linked shipping vessel, the Galaxy Leader, and are still holding the 25 international crew members hostage. The Houthis' military leadership previously issued a 'declaration of war' and have since launched several missiles and drones toward Israel. While Hezbollah in southern Lebanon has observed the Hamas-Israel truce, this seems a clear sign that the Houthis do not intend to.

On Friday another Israeli-linked shipping vessel came under attack shortly after leaving port at the United Arab Emirates. In that prior weekend incident an Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone struck the ship, but reportedly without casualties, and the vessel has continued on its course. If US warships intervene against the Houthis, the potential for a broader regional war becomes more likely.