Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The Japanese operator of a cargo ship hijacked by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels off the coast of Yemen confirmed Monday the vessel was commandeered and is being held near the Red Sea port of Hodeida.
Japanese shipping firm Nippon Yusen, also known as NYK Line, officially reported the Galaxy Leader was seized late Sunday while en route to India with no cargo.
"As the vessel's charterer, we are prioritizing the safety of the 25 crew members," the company said.
The ship is owned by the British company Galaxy Maritime Ltd., which is affiliated with Ray Car Carriers, the world's largest car carrier leasing company, which in turn is controlled by Israeli business man Rami Ungar, according to the Marine Log shipping trade journal.
Houthi armed forces leaders said in a statement they would target all ships "carrying the flag of the Zionist entity" or which are owned or operated by Israeli companies in retaliation for the thousands of civilian casualties amassed in Israel's war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.
The Yemeni faction on Monday released video footage of the operation, in which fighters are shown landing aboard the vessel via helicopter and placing the ship's captain under arrest.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin directly attributed the hijacking to Iran.
"The ship, which is owned by a British company and is operated by a Japanese firm, was hijacked with Iran guidance by the Yemenite Houthi militia," the PM's office said in a social media post, adding that the 25 crew members are comprised of various nationalities including Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Filipino and Mexican, with no Israelis onboard.
"This is another act of Iranian terrorism and constitutes a leap forward in Iran's aggression against the citizens of the free world, with international consequences regarding the security of the global shipping lanes," Netanyahu's office said.
Iran on Monday dismissed any notion of its involvement in the incident.
"The resistance groups represent their respective nations... They make decisions and act by themselves," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani told state-run media.
Japanese officials, meanwhile, spent Monday gathering information on the Galaxy Leader.
Transport Minister Saito Tetsuo told reporters he is in close contact with NYK Line and is sharing any information he collects across the government, while top Japanese government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said Tokyo "decisively condemns such an act while working internationally to secure the release of the ship and crew.