Two out of three vessels seized by Yemen’s Huthi rebels on the weekend are South Korean, Seoul officials said Tuesday, as are two out of 16 people captured.
According to Reuters, the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen said on Monday the Houthis had seized a vessel towing a South Korean drilling rig at the southern end of the Red Sea.
The vessel was seized late on Sunday by armed Houthis, Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement carried by Saudi state-run news agency.
He did not say how many crew members were on board the ship, said Reuters.
Al-Malki said the “attack” threatens vital shipping routes in the Bab al-Mandeb strait, used for oil shipments from the Gulf to Europe, as well as goods from Asia to Europe, said AP.
The Houthis have routinely targeted oil rigs, usually those belonging to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners that have been supporting the Yemeni government since in 2015.
The 16 crew members were taken to the port of Salif port where they were being held by the Huthis, the Seoul’s foreign ministry added.
“All of our citizens… are healthy and safe,” officials said in a statement.
Seoul has sent the South’s navy ship Cheonghae, which had been on anti-piracy standby off the coast of Oman, to waters near where the accident took place, AFP said.
“We are doing our very best for the early release of our citizens,” the statement added.
On Monday, rebel leader Mohammed Ali al-Houthi had said that the “Yemeni coast guard is doing its job” and was trying to determine if the seized vessel “belongs to the aggressors or to South Korea.”
“If it is for South Korea, they will be released after legal procedures,…. we assure everyone not to worry about the crew”, he said.
At the same time, Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed returned to the key southern port city of Aden as part of a power-sharing deal brokered by the Saudis that is meant to bring an end to the bloodshed.
“Today we are uniting our efforts to defeat the Iranian project in Yemen and restore the state,” the government said in a statement.
The conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country began in 2014, when Houthis took control of the capital Sanaa and captured much of Yemen’s north.
More than 100,000 people have died in the war and millions displaced, leading to widespread humanitarian crises such as a lack of food and medicine.