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Yemen rebels release seized Korean and Saudi vessels and crew

Houthi rebels released the South Korean and Saudi ships a day after capture AFP Getty)

Date of publication: 20 November, 2019

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Yemen's Houthi rebels released sixteen crew members a day after capturing two South Korean and one Saudi-flagged vessel.

Sixteen crew members, including two South Koreans, who were held when their three vessels were seized by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels at the weekend have been freed, Seoul's foreign ministry said Wednesday.

"The vessels and crew members that were seized and detained in Yemen have all been released," the ministry said in a statement.

The ships include two South Korean vessels and one Saudi-flagged tug, it added.

On Tuesday, the Houthis acknowledged they had seized three ships in the Red Sea a few miles off Uqban island, west of the rebel-held capital Sanaa.

The incident came amid a lull in Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia as one Riyadh official said the kingdom had established an "open channel" with the rebels in a bid to end the four-year conflict.

Seoul's foreign ministry said Tuesday a South Korean dredger was being towed by one Korean and one Saudi-flagged tug when they were seized by the Houthis.

It added that a total of 16 crew, two of them South Korean, had been taken to the Red Sea port of Saleef, where they were being held by the rebels.

Seoul sent the South Korean navy ship Cheonghae, which had been on anti-piracy standby off the coast of Oman, to waters near where the incident took place.

The Saudi-led military coalition backing Yemen's internationally-recognised government accused the rebels of "hijacking" the Rabigh-3, which a global tracking website described as a Saudi-flagged vessel.

A Saudi cabinet session, chaired by King Salman, also condemned the rebels on Tuesday, saying such incidents pose a threat to the freedom of international navigation and trade.

The rebels sought to defend their action, saying in a statement carried by their Al-Masirah television channel that the three ships were seized off Uqban Island after they entered "territorial waters without prior notice".

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The Houthi rebels have been fighting the government and its allies for more than four years in a war that has pushed the country to the brink of famine.

A year after the Houthis seized Sanaa, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies intervened in the conflict in support of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

Since 2015, tens of thousands of people - most of them civilians - have been killed in a conflict that has triggered what the United Nations has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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