'Houthi seized' Israeli-linked ship becomes popular tourist hotspot in Yemen's Hodeidah

Israeli-linked ships become popular tourist hotspot in Yemen
6 min read
19 December, 2023

Nasser Ghalib, 35, has been a fisherman in Yemen's Al-Hodeidah province for five years.

Lately, he stopped going to catch fish on his small boat and began using it for another purpose: carrying tourists and beach visitors to see the seized Israeli-linked ship Galaxy Leader that has been moored in the Al-Salif coast off Al-Hodeidah since last month.

On November 19, several armed men dropped a Houthi helicopter, spread on Galaxy Leader, and moved cautiously and swiftly to the crew cabin.

The crew put up little resistance and obeyed the instructions of the armed Houthis. The ship was directed to Hodeidah, which lies west of Yemen. Since then, the Galaxy Leader has been a tourist destination for thousands of people from diverse Yemeni provinces.

"Seeing the massacres in Gaza is heart-wrenching and makes us feel powerless. When the seizure of the Israeli-linked ship off Yemen was declared, the public in Yemen felt a sense of joy, and people's morale was lifted. I decided to travel from Sanaa to Hodeidah, a distance of over 220 km, to see the ship and express my support for such moves which hurt the Israeli occupation," said a 40-year-old Ahmed Ali, a supermarket owner in Sanaa.

"It feels like a lively party on the ship. People in Yemen are happy about anything that puts pressure on Israel to stop its war on civilians in Gaza"

Ali arrived in Hodeidah on December 8 and visited the ship the next day. He said, "When I arrived at the beach in the Al-Salif area at 9 am, the place was full of people, and many of them were waiting to board a boat and sail to see the Galaxy Leader. Setting foot on the ship is like taking revenge against Israel."

Opposition to Israel has heightened over its assault on the Gaza Strip, which has killed nearly 20,000 people. 

Visitors' activities on Galaxy Leader

The small boats come close to the ship, and the visitors on board step from the boat to a ladder fixed on the outside body of the Galaxy Leader. Those responsible for allowing visitors in and out try to keep the entry and departure of visitors organised.

On the ship, the visitors have different activities. They walk in some parts of the vessel, meet with the crew, take group photos, and perform folklore dancing.

On December 2, local authorities in Hodeidah allowed a university graduation ceremony to be held on Galaxy Leader. The graduating batch was called the "Al-Aqsa Flood" after the name of an operation launched by Hamas fighters on October 7 in the Israeli settlement bordering Gaza.

Abdulrahman Mohammed, a 24-year-old university student from Hodeidah, told The New Arab that most of those who come to see Galaxy Leader are staunch supporters of the Palestinian cause, adding, "It feels like a lively party on the ship. People in Yemen are happy about anything that puts pressure on Israel to stop its war on civilians in Gaza."

Yemen's Houthis say that the Galaxy Leader is associated with Abraham Ungar, one of Israel's richest individuals [Getty Images]
Yemen's Houthis say that the Galaxy Leader is associated with Abraham Ungar, one of Israel's richest individuals [Getty Images]

Houthi popularity magnifies

Over the past years of war in Yemen, lots of civilians abhorred the Houthi authorities, considering them the root cause of the conflict in Yemen.

However, the video footage that showed the moment of the Galaxy Leader seizure made multitudes of Yemenis proud and euphoric. Those who opposed the Houthis for years have begun to change their perception.

Mustafa Hussein, a government employee in Sanaa, told The New Arab that the Israeli war on Gaza is an extreme tyranny, and resisting it is a "noble and honourable stance, this is the first time I support a Houthi move," he said.

The Houthis toppled the Yemeni government in 2015 and began extending their military presence in different provinces. When they took over power, their popularity was little, and they relied on force to maintain their gains on the ground.

However, their military achievements over the past years earned them some popularity, and the group's involvement in Israel's war on Gaza has further improved its image in Yemen.

While multitudes of Yemenis commend the Houthi missile attacks on Israel and Israeli-linked ships in the Red Sea, the Yemeni government, a deadly foe of the Iran-backed Houthis, vehemently opposes any act that threatens the safety of international navigation.

Muammar Al-Eryani, the information minister in the Yemeni government, said in a statement that the seizure of the Israeli-linked ship "cannot have any direct or indirect impact on the brutal Israeli occupation."

According to Al-Eryani, this act directly impacts the international trade movement in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, the Suez Canal, and the economies of the countries overlooking the Red Sea.

Al-Eryani described the Houthi seizure of the ship as an attempt to legitimise the presence of foreign forces in the region's straits under the pretext of protecting international marine routes from piracy.

A global concern

The Houthi seizure of the Galaxy Leader sparked a global concern about the safety of international navigation in the Red Sea, particularly in Bab Al-Mandeb off Yemen, from which about 12% of total seaborne-traded oil passes.

Given the strategic location of Yemen and the Houthis' proximity to Bab al-Mandeb, the Houthis have launched several missile and drone attacks on vessels owned or operated by Israel.

Lately, the group declared that any ship bound for Israel would also be targeted regardless of the nationality of the vessel or the flag it flies.

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Without the intervention of international forces, including US and French warships, in the Red Sea, many Israeli-linked vessels would have been hit.

On November 9, the group warned destroyers against escorting the Israeli-linked ships and considered such warships legitimate targets.

Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi said that the Houthi forces would consider military vessels protecting ships sailing to Israel as legitimate targets, explaining, "Any military escort of Israeli ships will be considered a threat to the Republic of Yemen's security, and the [Houthi] armed forces will have the authority to combat this threat."

What the Houthis have done in support of Gaza is "heroic" in the eyes of countless Yemenis, and the seizure of Galaxy is "an example of their courage." 

Ghaleb, the fisherman who transports visitors on his boat to see the Israeli-linked ship Galaxy Leader off Hodeidah, hopes that the "Houthi adventures" against Israel and US forces in the Red Sea would not draw Yemen into a regional conflict.

The writer is a Yemeni journalist, reporting from Yemen, whose identity we are protecting for their security