Yemen's Houthis hijack UAE-flagged cargo vessel, coalition says

The Saudi-led coalition said Iran-backed rebels attacked a ship carrying a field hospital

Brig Gen Turki Al Malki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, said the 'Rawabi' cargo ship was hijacked on Sunday. Reuters

Houthi rebels have hijacked a UAE-flagged vessel off the coast of Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition said on Monday.

Coalition spokesman Brig Gen Turki Al Malki said the cargo ship, the Rawabi, was hijacked on Sunday evening near the port city of Hodeidah.

He 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.

Brig Gen Al Malki 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".

Late on Sunday night, the UK's Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) − part of Britain's Royal Navy — said it had received reports of an attack on a vessel near Yemen's port of Ras Isa, just 50 kilometres north of Hodeidah, and that an investigation was under way.

It put the vessel's position at approximately 23 nautical miles west of Ras Isa oil terminal in the Red Sea.

The UKMTO advised ships to exercise extreme caution in the area.

The Houthis acknowledged the seizure off the coast of Hodeida, a long-contested prize of the war in Yemen between the Houthis and the internationally-recognised government.

The rebels published footage from the ship on their Al Masirah satellite news channel. It showed military-style inflatable rafts, lorries and other vehicles on the vessel, and a landing craft that lowers a ramp to allow equipment to roll on and off.

One brief clip showed what appeared to be a delivery of assault rifles inside a container.

“It is completely obvious today that the information that this ship was carrying a civilian field hospital is not correct,” Yahia Sarei, a Houthi military spokesman said. “This is clearly military equipment.”

Saudi state television claimed that the Houthis had transferred the weapons on to the vessel.

An employee at the vessel’s owners, Abu Dhabi-based Liwa Marine Services, told AP in a telephone call that the Rawabi appeared to have been the target, but that they had no other information. The employee declined to comment further.

Condemnations poured in from the Organisation of the Islamic Council and the Arab Parliament.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi urged the rebels to immediately release the ship.

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

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

The Houthis have repeatedly taken aim at military and civilian vessels in the Red Sea and Bab Al Mandeb, drawing international condemnation. The US designated the rebels as terrorists early last year after a string of attacks on oil tankers in the Red Sea.

Updated: January 3rd 2022, 4:39 PM