Houthi-captured ship becomes tourist attraction for Yemenis

Rebel group has held 'cultural activities' aboard the Galaxy Leader, calling for boycotts of Israeli and American-made products

People tour the deck of the Galaxy Leader commercial ship, seized by Yemen's Houthis last month, off the coast of al-Salif, Yemen.  Reuters
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A Bahamas-flagged cargo ship seized by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea last month has become a local tourist attraction.

The Houthis have held performances and “cultural activities in solidarity with the Palestinian people” on the Galaxy Leader, under the banner of Art in the Face of the Zionist Entity, the Saba news agency controlled by the rebel group reported on Monday.

The Galaxy Leader is operated by Japanese company NYK Line but belongs to Ray Car Carriers, registered in Britain's Isle of Man but owned by Israeli billionaire shipping mogul Abraham “Rami” Ungar.

It is believed that 25 of the vessel's crew – from Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Philippines, Mexico and Romania – are being held hostage by the Houthis.

They have been allowed “modest contact” with their families while various countries push for their release, the ship's owner said last week.

During the event, held by the Houthi-run Organisation for Theatre and Cinema, a play expressing Yemeni's anger at the “Zionist genocide” in the Gaza Strip also called for a boycott of American and Israeli products, Saba reported.

A resident of Hodeidah told The National that the ship was currently docked at Al Salif, about an hour from Hodeidah city.

“There are regular fishing boats that transport people to the ship for 500 riyals, which roughly means one dollar. Visits are for men only,” said the resident who declined to be named.

A student, Mohammad, 23, said he went with a group of his friends 10 days after the boat was captured. He was surprised at the long lines of people waiting to go on board.

“We climbed unsafe stairs to get on to the ship. On the dock, people brought qat [a stimulant chewed by users as raw leaves] and hookah with them,” he said.

Mohammed said that since the vessel was seized, Al Salif, which is usually empty, was “suddenly full of street vendors and businessmen. It's as if we were celebrating Eid”.

Fisherman Saber, 38, said 10 boats belonging to the Houthis were being used to transport people to the ship free of charge.

“Three other boats belonging to fishermen from Al Salif are designated for urgent needs and for VIPs, but these are paid,” he said.

“It takes 10 minutes to go from the port to the ship. There are stairs designated for the disabled and elderly but their use is very limited. Families are allowed to take a tour around the ship but not on board.”

Many more visitors flocking to see the ship are coming from the capital, Sanaa, as well as Hajjah and Ibb, he said.

The Houthis have escalated attacks on ships they consider linked to Israel, threatening to escalate attacks in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, of whom more than 18,000 have been killed since the war began on October 7.

Updated: December 13, 2023, 5:37 AM