US condemns Houthi hijacking of UAE-flagged vessel

Washington says the Iran-backed rebels' actions come at a time when all parties should be returning to political talks

US State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the Houthis to 'immediately release the ship and crew unharmed'. Photo: Reuters

The US has condemned the Houthis’ hijacking of a UAE-flagged merchant vessel off the coast of Yemen.

“These actions interfere with freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and threaten international trade and regional security,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“These Houthi actions come at a time when all parties should be de-escalating and returning to inclusive political talks. We urge the Houthis to immediately release the ship and crew unharmed, and to cease all violence that sets back the political process to end the war in Yemen.”

The UN expressed “concern” over the seizure and called for “maximum restraint” in the region.

“The circumstances around the incident remain unclear,” said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“We reaffirm the need to respect the rights and obligations relating to maritime navigation in accordance with international law,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

The Houthis, the government and other forces fighting in Yemen's war should engage with UN mediation efforts and reach a comprehensive peace deal, he added.

The Saudi-led military coalition said on Sunday that the cargo ship, the Rawabi, was hijacked on that evening near the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah.

It said the ship had been taking a Saudi field hospital from Yemen's Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean to Jazan in the south of the kingdom.

The cargo included ambulances, medical and communications equipment, tents, a field kitchen and laundry, as well as technical and security support equipment.

It said that the coalition would take “all necessary measures to deal with this violation, including the use of force when necessary".

The Houthis acknowledged the seizure off the coast of Hodeidah. The city has been a long-contested prize in the war between the Houthis and the internationally-recognised government.

The last shipping incident near Ras Isa was in late 2019 when the rebels briefly seized a Saudi-flagged ship and two South Korean vessels.

Updated: January 5th 2022, 5:53 PM