Red Sea attacks on ships spark safety concerns for sailors

FILE PHOTO: The Galaxy Leader cargo ship is escorted by Houthi boats in the Red Sea

By Jonathan Saul

LONDON (Reuters) - Commercial ships face increasing dangers at sea after armed groups have attacked and seized vessels in waters around the Red Sea and off the coast of Yemen, adding to perils for seafarers, shipping officials said on Wednesday.

An attempted hijacking of a commercial vessel in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday appears to have been carried out by armed Somali pirates and not Yemeni Houthis, despite the firing of missiles from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen afterwards, the Pentagon said on Monday.

The incident is the latest in a series of attacks in Middle Eastern waters since a brutal war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas broke out on Oct. 7.

On Nov. 19, Houthis seized the Galaxy Leader car carrier which was taken to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, the vessel's owner said.

Both vessels had ownership links to Israeli business magnates, according to shipping records.

The International Chamber of Shipping association said the "attacks must stop immediately, and the innocent seafarers released".

"In all cases, these vessels are conducting their right of freedom of navigation and innocent passage," the ICS said in a statement.

An Israeli container shipping line said on Sunday it expected longer sailing times for its vessels.

"In light of the threat to safe transit of global trade in the Arabian and Red Seas, ZIM is taking temporary proactive measures to ensure the safety of its crews, vessels, and customers' cargo by re-routing some of its vessels," ZIM said.

U.S. maritime administration MARAD said in an advisory on Sunday that vessels faced multiple threats after the attacks.

"Exercise caution when transiting these areas and remain cognizant of evolving threats in this region," MARAD said.

Insurance industry sources said they expected war risk premiums to rise in the area, especially for Israel-linked shipping.

(Reporting by Jonathan Saul, additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn)