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Politics & Security

EDITORIAL | Hijacked Japanese Cargo Ship Puts Global Commerce at Risk

Iranian-funded Houtis hijacked the Japanese-operated ship. Tokyo must now use its influence with Iran to end such terrorism.

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Houthi military helicopter flies over the Galaxy Leader cargo ship in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023. From a Video of Yemen's pro-Iranian Houthi militants hijacking a cargo ship operated by NYK Line, November 20. (©Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS)

A car carrier operated by NYK (Nippon Yusen KK) has been hijacked by the Houthis, a pro-Iranian militia group in Yemen. The takeover occurred while the ship was transiting the Red Sea west of the Arabian Peninsula. 

A Bahamian-flagged vessel, the Galaxy Leader is owned by a British company. The car carrier had been chartered by NYK and was headed from Turkey to India. Its 25 captured crew members were of Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Filipino, and other nationalities. Israeli media has also reported that an Israeli businessman is involved in the ownership of the ship. 

Yemen's pro-Iranian Houthi militants hijacking the NYK Line-operated cargo ship. (© Houthi Media Center/Getty via Kyodo)

The Houthis issued a statement exulting that they had captured a "prize" in the form of an "Israeli ship." They also warned that any ship associated with Israel would be a target. The Houthis are reacting to the ongoing Israeli attack on Gaza. 

No Justification for Lawlessness

No matter what reason is offered, attacking and hijacking a civilian vessel cannot be justified. The Houthis may be one of the groups participating in the civil war in Yemen, but they are not a legitimate government and have no authority whatsoever to seize civilian vessels. The seizure of the vessel was an outrageous act of terrorism

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a press conference he could not fathom why the Houthis referred to the vessel in question as a "prize." However, he stressed that Japan "decisively condemned" the hijacking. He added that it was "working with relevant countries to secure the release of the ship and its crew as soon as possible." 

Such a stance was to be expected. We hope all possible efforts will indeed be made to bring about the release of the ship and crew.

The Galaxy Leader cargo ship is escorted by Houthi boats in the Red Sea in this photo released November 20, 2023. (©Houthi Military Media/Handout via REUTERS)

Risks to Global Commerce

Current hostilities between Israel and the fundamentalist Islamic organization Hamas are having a severe impact on commerce. The Red Sea is a major artery for the global economy. Moreover, a ship operated by a Japanese company has suffered damage. 

Since fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas in October, the Houthis have been attempting to attack Israel with cruise missiles and drones. United States Navy destroyers have also shot some of these drones down over the Red Sea. 

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has characterized the seizure of the Galaxy Leader as "one more act of terror by Iran." Although there is no evidence that Iran instigated the takeover of the ship, there is no question that Tehran has been providing the Houthis with military assistance. Moreover, it has a great deal of influence over the group.

Prime Minister Kishida shaking hands with Iranian President Raisi, September 20, New York, US. ((©Kyodo)

Japan maintains good relations with Iran. Therefore, the Kishida administration should strongly urge Iran to use its influence to secure the release of the ship and crew and prevent additional illegal conduct by the Houthis. 

We cannot allow terrorist acts to become widespread. "Freedom of navigation" in the Red Sea must be ensured. It is time to start examining the possibility of cooperation with the US and other military units deployed in the Red Sea. Additionally, the possibility of utilizing the Djibouti-based Self-Defense Forces should be considered. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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