Two Navy SEALs remained missing Saturday after an accident two days ago while trying to board a ship off the coast of Somalia, two current and two former Pentagon officials said.
The incident comes as the United States steps up its actions against Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen, aiming to curb their attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. As part of these missions, the U.S. Navy and its allies responded to distress calls.
Over the past two days, the United States and its allies have struck Houthi-linked targets in Yemen, attempting to undermine the militia’s offensive capabilities.
In the latest incident, SEAL team members were dispatched Thursday to approach a suspicious vessel off the coast of Somalia, officials said. It was unclear Saturday what prompted the commandos to single out the ship for further investigation.
In recent weeks, Houthi militias and Somali-based pirates have threatened or seized vessels in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast. The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, besieged by the Israeli army following Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7. Pentagon officials said Saturday that the circumstances surrounding this incident were different from those involving the Houthis or the pirates. But they refused to release further details.
As two SEAL team members attempted to board the ship Thursday evening in rough seas, one of the commandos apparently slipped from the boarding ladder, according to a current and former Pentagon official briefed on of the incident. Another team member then jumped into the water to try to rescue the sailor, officials said. Both soon disappeared in the swell.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss operational matters.
Navy ships and aircraft were immediately dispatched to the scene, where search and recovery efforts are underway, officials said. The military’s Central Command noted the rescue operations in a statement released Friday, but made no mention that the sailors were members of a SEAL team or any details of the incident.
Military officials have begun the process of informing the families of the commandos involved in the episode, a former official said.