The Pentagon said Monday that the five individuals who were captured by the U.S. Navy after seizing an Israeli-linked chemical tanker in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday were Somali pirates.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters during a Monday press briefing that a U.S. Navy destroyer responded to a distress call that was sent by Central Park, an Israeli-linked tanker after five individuals armed with weapons boarded the commercial vessel.
“The USS Mason, with allied ships from the combined — Maritime Forces Counter-Piracy Combined Task Force 151 and associated aircraft, responded to a distress call from the Central Park when they came under attack by an unknown entity,” Ryder said. “Coalition vessels responded, and upon arrival, demanded the release of the vessel. Subsequently, five armed individuals disembarked the ship and attempted to flee via their small boat.”
Ryder explained that the USS Mason was able to pursue the five attackers as they fled and eventually forced them to surrender. He added that the Central Park’s crew is “currently safe.”
Ryder noted that two ballistic missiles were fired later in the evening from Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen in the “general location” of the USS Mason and the Central Park. Ryder said that while it is not yet clear what the missiles were targeting, the two ballistic missiles landed roughly ten nautical miles from the two ships in the Gulf of Aden.
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Asked whether the incident involving the five attackers was related to piracy, Ryder stated, “Clearly, a piracy-related incident in that this vessel was boarded by these five individuals. They attempted to access the crew cabin. The crew essentially were able to lock themselves into a safe haven. These individuals attempted to access and take control of the ship. But when the combined task force responded, they essentially fled.”
An anonymous U.S. defense official told ABC News Monday that the piracy incident and the incident with the two ballistic missiles that were fired from Houthi-controlled regions of Yemen do not appear to be directly related to one another.
While Ryder told reporters that the U.S. military is “continuing to assess the situation,” he emphasized that the individuals involved in the piracy attempt were not Houthi. “We know that they’re not Houthi,” he said.
Ryder also told reporters Monday that three Chinese navy ships were located in the area of the Central Park commercial vessel; however, none of the three Chinese ships responded to the Central Park’s distress call.
“Supposedly, those ships are there as part of a counter-piracy mission, but they did not respond,” he stated.
The recent piracy incident comes as tensions continue to rise in the Middle East region. According to ABC News, Iran-backed terrorist groups have conducted at least 73 rocket and drone attacks against U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq since the middle of October. U.S. defense officials told ABC News that at least 70 U.S. troops have been injured in the attacks.