Houthi rebels release South Korean and Saudi vessels and 16 crew
Yemen’s Houthi rebels released 16 people and three vessels they had seized, South Korea’s foreign ministry and a Houthi military source in Yemen said yesterday.
The Iran-backed group said the ships were five kilometres off the Yemeni island of Uqban, and that its coastguard had forced the vessels to head to Salif port in the Red Sea province of Hodeidah.
The Houthis have in the past targeted oil tankers and military ships belonging to Saudi Arabia and its partners in the coalition fighting in Yemen since 2015.
Of the vessels freed on Tuesday, two were South Korean and one flew a Saudi Arabian flag, the South Korean foreign ministry said. “The three ships were released after the necessary legal measures,” the Houthi military source in Yemen said. All crew were released.
Hussein Al Azzi, the Houthi deputy foreign minister, said the release resulted from friendly ties between Seoul and Sanaa, the Yemeni capital the Houthis overran in 2014.
He said a Houthi investigation found the ships had entered Yemeni waters because of bad weather, he said. Previously, the Houthi coastguard said the vessels had entered Yemeni waters without permission.
The Houthis said they would release the captured vessels if they proved to be South Korean, after they seized a rig being towed by a Saudi-flagged tugboat in the southern part of the Red Sea. The Riyadh-led coalition said the seized vessels included a Korean drilling rig and the Saudi tug, the Rabigh 3, which were captured by Houthi fighters who attacked from two boats. When the vessels were seized, coalition spokesman Col Turki Al Malki said the action threatened shipping routes in Bab Al Mandeb, the strait used for oil shipments from the Arabian Gulf to Europe and goods from Asia.
The Arab Coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to support the government. Houthi forces have been driven from most of Yemen’s coast, but still hold Hodeidah, the base of the group’s navy.
The UN said the Houthis attacked two oil tankers last year in Bab Al Mandeb and a vessel carrying wheat to Yemen.