Yemeni Houthis hijack UAE freighter

The Saudi-led coalition has announced that the Iranian-backed rebels attacked a ship carrying a field hospital

AFP/KARIM SAHIB  -   A fishing boat entering the harbour of the southern city of Aden, located at the mouth of the Red Sea.

Houthi rebels have hijacked a United Arab Emirates-flagged ship off the coast of Yemen, the Saudi-led Arab Coalition Forces to Support Legitimacy in Yemen announced on Monday. Coalition spokesman Turki al-Maliki said the freighter, named Rawabi, was hijacked on Sunday night near the port city of Hodeida.

Late on Sunday night, UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) announced that there had been an attack on a ship near the port of Ras Isa in Yemen, 50 kilometres north of Hodeida, and that an investigation was underway.

REUTERS/MOHAMED al-SAYAGHI - A view shows the town of Hadibu on the capital island of Socotra.

According to the coalition, the ship was carrying a Saudi field hospital from Yemen's Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean to Jazan in the south of the kingdom. The cargo, according to the coalition, included ambulances, medical and communications equipment, tents, field kitchen and laundry, as well as technical and security support equipment.

While the Houthis have acknowledged the seizure of the boat off the coast of Hodeida, they do not recognise the boat as a field hospital, but as military equipment, according to footage released by the rebels on their Al-Masirah satellite news channel. The short video released showed military-style inflatable rafts, trucks and other vehicles, landing craft, as well as assault rifles inside a container. "It is completely obvious that the information that this boat was carrying a civilian field hospital is not correct," announced Houthi military spokesman Yahia Sarei. "This is clearly military equipment," he added.

Yahia Sarei also argued for the capture of the ship via his Twitter account. "The Yemeni Navy successfully carried out a special military operation against a military cargo ship in Yemeni territorial waters in the Red Sea, specifically off the governorate of Hodeida, while it was carrying out hostile activities," the spokesman added. "The hostile vessel is carrying military equipment of machinery, equipment and other goods used in the aggression against the Yemeni people," Yahia Sarei argued. However, Saudi state television claimed that the Houthis had transferred the weapons to the ship.

PHOTO/REUTERS - Houthi supporters wave their weapons during a rally in Sana'a, Yemen, 6 July 2020.

For his part, Brigadier General Al-Maliki urged the Houthis to release the ship immediately, warning that the coalition would take "all necessary measures to deal with this violation, including the use of force when necessary". In response, Houthi military spokesman Yahia Sarei also made the same call. "We reiterate our warning that we have adequate options to respond to the escalation of aggression. We say this specifically to the enemy of the United Arab Emirates," he announced.

The hijacking of the ship by the Houthis adds to tensions in the Yemeni civil war that still rages between the Iranian-backed Houthis and the internationally recognised government. The last maritime incident near Ras Isa was in late 2019 when Houthi rebels briefly seized a Saudi-flagged ship and two South Korean vessels. For its part, the US also designated the rebels as terrorists early last year after a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia is leading the military coalition seeking to restore Yemen's internationally recognised government after the 2014 Houthi coup sparked the bloody civil war. The situation in Yemen has been described by the UN as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.