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by John Helmer, Moscow 

From the minute after the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and the UK Maritime Trade Organisation (UKMTO) learned that the oil tanker MV Chem Pluto had been hit by an exploding drone in the Indian Ocean 1,600 kilometres east of the Red Sea and Yemen coast (lead image, left), they also knew why. Through a joint venture between a Japanese and a Singapore holding company operating through a Dutch management cutout, the vessel is owned by Idan Ofer, an Israeli shipping magnate  (lead image, right).

The Chem Pluto strike is the second by a drone against one of Ofer’s vessels in the Indian Ocean. The first strike was on November 24, when the container carrier CMA CGM Symi was targeted in the northeastern sector of the Indian Ocean.  The Symi is owned by Ofer’s Eastern Pacific Shipping in Singapore.   

On December 18, drone strikes were reported by CENTCOM   against the Swan Atlantic oil tanker and the bulker MV Clara. The first vessel is owned by a Norwegian company but management, with hidden equity, belongs to the Israeli Zodiac group, owned by Idan Ofer’s brother, Eyal Ofer.   The second vessel, the Clara, is owned and managed by a German company, Johann MK Blumenthal; no Israeli trace has been found to date,   but the Houthis have yet to make a mistake in spotting and hitting Israeli ships.

On November 19 they did more than that. On that day an Israeli-owned  car carrier, Galaxy Leader, was captured by Houthi commandos in the Red Sea. Follow their operation as they filmed it;  here is the vessel now receiving tourists at anchor off Al-Salif port, Yemen.  Ownership by the Israeli Abraham Ungar was concealed behind a Japanese ship management entity and a company registered under the Isle of Man-headquartered Ray Car Carriers, which in turn is owned by a Tel Aviv company called Ray Shipping.

Houthi political and military spokesmen have repeatedly made clear they are attacking Israeli shipping, as well as vessels of any nationality trading in and out of Israel’s ports.  “Israeli ships are legitimate targets for us anywhere… and we will not hesitate to take action,” Major General Ali Al-Moshki, a Houthi military official, said on the group’s television station on November 20, following the capture of the Galaxy Leader.  

 “If Gaza does not receive the food and medicine it needs, all ships in the Red Sea bound for Israeli ports, regardless of their nationality, will become a target for our armed forces,” a Houthi press statement declared on December 9.  

CENTCOM and Pentagon releases to the press have also claimed to have intercepted Houthi drone and missile attacks on US warships in the Red Sea attempting to protect the Israeli-owned or Israel-bound shipping.

Less successful in hitting Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat, the Houthi campaign has been effective in cutting off the port by striking at vessels in the Red Sea, and then extending the range of strikes to the eastern Indian Ocean. Eilat accounts for 45% of car imports to Israel and 5% of all the goods imported to Israel by sea. The Houthi campaign has cut Eilat’s port revenue by 80% since October 7.  

The impact has expanded to all shipping in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Indian Ocean if their management and ownership are based in the US and the European states allied with Israel in the Gaza war, and also with the US in the war against Russia in the Ukraine.

It is this coalition of states which US Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin attempted to rally for naval convoy and counter-threat operations on December 18, calling the plan  OPERATION PROSPERITY GUARDIAN.  

This operation is now coming apart in recriminations because commercial vessel owners in France, Spain, and Italy have accepted that if they negotiate Israel-boycott deals directly with the Houthis, they can continue to operate through the Red Sea.  They resent the commercial competition from Russia and China which are operating oil tankers and dry-cargo carriers without hindrance or threat.  

The obviousness of the targeting by the Houthis, and of Houthi deal-making by the Russians and Chinese, are being concealed, however, in the US and UK maritime industry media and the mainstream press. They are advocating maximum use of force by the Israel and US-led operation in the region to attack both Houthi and Iranian targets.  

In the most recent strike, the Israeli oil tanker Chem Pluto was hit on Saturday, December 23, by a drone about 1,600 kilometres east of the Yemen coast; about 200 kilometres west of the Indian coast.   Initial media reporting claimed the vessel was “affiliated” to Israel but emphasized that it was owned by a Japanese entity and managed by a Dutch one. The Indian media claimed the drone strike had come from the Iranian intelligence vessel MV Safiz reportedly 87 kilometres away from the Chem Pluto.

Late on Saturday evening, the Russian military blogger Boris Rozhin reported:  “The Chem Pluto tanker hit by the drone belonged to Israeli oligarch Idan Ofer and was flying the flag of Liberia. The drone arrived 200 miles from the Indian port of Verawal. There was a fire on board, but the crew managed to put it out. This strike shows that attacks on Israeli vessels can be carried out not only in the Red Sea or the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, but also in the Indian Ocean. At the same time, the flags that the Houthis go after are ignored – ownership structure is the priority. If the owner is associated with Israel, the ship immediately becomes a potential target.” This Russian publication was datelined December 23 at 22:37 Moscow time.

TradeWinds, an Oslo-based maritime publication which used to be pro-Russian so long as it was receiving advertising and sponsorship money from Sovcomflot, the Russian state shipping company, picked up on the story a day later. According to TradeWinds, “the Chem Pluto is operated by Amsterdam-based Ace Quantum, according to data from Equasis. The company is a joint venture of Ace Tankers and Eastern Pacific Shipping, which is owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer. The ship is listed as owned by Sansho Kaiun of Japan, with technical management by Fleet Management.”   This disclosure was published on December 24 at 1804 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Equasis, the data source for tracing the Chem Pluto to Ofer,  is the creation of the European Commission and the French Maritime Administration, which set up the website and database in 2000 to “promote the exchange of unbiased information and transparency in maritime transport and thus allow persons involved in maritime transport to be better informed about the performance of ships and maritime organisations with which they are dealing.”   With the exception of Brazil, Equasis is a US-allied operation.

The allies knew at once that the Chem Pluto had been targeted because it was Israeli-owned.  However, the Pentagon, the Voice of America, and UK propaganda continue to pretend that the Houthi targeting is not tied to the Israel Defence Forces’ operations in Gaza, and carefully restricted to Israeli and allied targets.   

TradeWinds has reported the  target strategy under a headline indicating that Iran may expand the war to threaten shipping moving through the Gibraltar Strait towards Israel’s Mediterranean ports, Ashdod and Haifa. The Iranian  statement on the Gibraltar Strait has been reported in the western press   with the qualification that “Iran has no direct access to the Mediterranean itself and it was not clear how the Guards could attempt to close it off” and that “the only groups backed by Iran on the Mediterranean are Lebanon’s Hezbollah and allied militia in Syria, at the far end of the sea from Gibraltar.”

Source: https://www.tradewindsnews.com/

The western news agencies and the Anglo-American maritime media appear not to be aware of the capabilities of Algeria, whose parliament has authorized the government to take unspecified military measures against Israel.  Algeria’s military is also collaborating closely and recently with the Russian Navy.

The possibility of a drone attack on an Israeli vessel near the Gibraltar Strait has not yet dawned publicly, not at least in the mainstream and maritime industry media. More than 100,000 vessels transit through the Gibraltar Strait each year.  If Israeli-owned and international shipping are now blocked from reaching either Eilat or Haifa and Ashdod from the east through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the Gibraltar Strait in the west is  the gateway remaining. This is acknowledged by Israeli experts. “According to Dr. Elyakim BenHakoun from the Industrial Engineering and Management Faculty at the Technion Institute of Technology, about 99% of goods (in terms of cargo volume) reach Israel by sea, and around 40% of the cargo arriving in Israel passes through the Suez Canal…the consequence of stopping ship traffic in the Red Sea is to circumnavigate Africa, leading to an extension of shipping times by approximately two weeks to a month, depending on the destination region, vessel speed, and ship category. This roughly translates to an additional cost of $400,0000-$1 million per ship.”   

From Gibraltar (left) to Haifa and Ashdod (right), Israel’s leading cargo ports, is a distance of almost 2,300 nautical miles (4,300 kilometres), and at 10 knots vessel  speed takes 9.5 days.  Right, satellite image of Ashdod.   A US Centre for Naval Analyses study of 2011 estimated severe economic damage to Israel from an oil cutoff at the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el-Mandeb. It added that “we are not aware of estimates of the flow of oil through the Strait of Gibraltar. However, a disruption to the Strait of Gibraltar is likely to have similar economic effects on the United States as a disruption to either the Suez Canal or the Bab el-Mandeb.”   

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