Houthi rebels re­lease South Korean and Saudi ves­sels and 16 crew

The National - News - - NEWS - THE NA­TIONAL

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.

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