US Navy responds to distress call after Israeli-owned tanker seized off coast of Yemen

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A U.S. Navy vessel responded to a distress call Sunday from an Israeli-linked tanker off the coast of Yemen on Sunday and was later fired upon, Fox News has learned. 

U.S. Navy personnel from the USS Mason, a Mayport-based Arleigh Burke class destroyer assigned to the Eastern Mediterranean, responded to the distress call from the Liberian-flagged Central Park, carrying a cargo of phosphoric acid in the Gulf of Aden. 

The vessel is managed by Zodiac Maritime, a London-based international ship management company owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

A Zodiac spokesperson told Fox News Digital the vessel issued a distress call around 6 a.m. UTC Sunday morning stating it was under attack by suspected pirates while transiting the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTV) some 54 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. 

Sources told Fox that five armed gunmen seized the tanker after boarding from a skiff by pulling up alongside the tanker. The crew locked themselves in the Citadel. 

The gunmen tried to beat down the door to the safe room before exiting the ship and making their way back to the shores of Yemen. 

U.S. Navy personnel pursued the subjects, firing warning shots as a U.S. helicopter gunship flew overhead. A Japanese destroyer assisted the USS Mason with the interdiction. The subjects were arrested and are now being questioned by the U.S. military under counter-piracy authorities.  

Two senior U.S. officials told Fox News Digital that Houthi forces fired two ballistic missiles at the USS Mason following the arrest. The USS Mason tracked the ballistic missiles as they approached, but both missiles fell short, splashing in the Gulf of Aden. 

Zodiac said the vessel ‘is safe and all of the crew, the vessel, and the cargo are unharmed.’ 

‘Zodiac Maritime’s team in London, UK have been working closely with international naval coalition partners in the region today,’ the company spokesperson said. ‘We would like to thank the coalition forces who responded quickly, protecting assets in the area and upholding international maritime law.’ 

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.

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.

Zodiac Maritime has been targeted previously amid a wider yearslong shadow war between Iran and Israel. In 2021, a drone attack assessed by the U.S. and other Western nations to have been carried out by Iran killed two crew members aboard Zodiac’s oil tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman.

The Central Park seizure comes after a container ship, CMA CGM Symi, owned by another Israeli billionaire came under attack Friday by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean. Iran has not acknowledged carrying out the attack.

The attacks, meanwhile, come as global shipping increasingly finds itself targeted in the weekslong war that threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even as a truce has halted fighting and Hamas exchanges hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

With the Israel-Hamas war — which began with the militant Palestinian group’s Oct. 7 attack — raging on, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship in the Red Sea off Yemen. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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