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Saudi-led coalition accuses Yemen's Houthis of hijacking cargo ship in Red Sea

Highlights

UAE-flagged RWABEE hijacked off Yemen's coast: Saudi-led coalition

Vessel on way from Yemen's Socotra island to Saudi Arabia's Jazan Port

RWABEE was carrying medical field equipment

A Saudi-led coalition has accused Yemen's Iranian-aligned Houthi militia of hijacking a UAE-flagged cargo ship in the Red Sea and called on the military group to release the vessel, vowing to take action, including the use of force to free it, a Saudi spokesman said on Jan. 3.

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According to Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, the spokesperson of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the militia in Yemen, the Houthis hijacked the ship RWABEE, which is sailing under the UAE flag, near the coast of Hodeidah in Yemen late on Jan. 2.

"RWABEE was conducting a maritime mission from the Island of Socotra to Jazan Port," said Malki in a statement carried by state-run Saudi Press Agency.

The ship was carrying medical equipment for a field hospital in Socotra, he added.

"This act of piracy by the terrorist Houthi militia is a credible threat that highlights the danger of the terrorist Houthi militia on the freedom of navigation and international trade in the South Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait," Maliki said. "The militia must promptly release the ship, or the coalition forces will undertake all necessary measures and procedures to handle this violation, including the use of force if necessary."

Yahya Sare'e, the Houthi's military spokesman, confirmed on twitter the seizure of "an Emirati cargo military ship," which he claimed was carrying military equipment that entered Yemen's territorial waters without permission and conducts actions that undermine the security and stability of the Yemeni people.

Red Sea attacks

The Saudi-led coalition has been involved in a war with the Houthis in Yemen since 2015, which has led to a number of security incidents in the Red Sea.

The Houthis have in the past claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on ships in the Red Sea and vital energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations had cautioned ships passing by an area in the Red Sea Jan. 3 after it received reports of an attack on a vessel some 23 nautical miles west of Yemen's Ras Isa marine terminal. The UKMTO posted the notice advising caution on twitter Jan. 3.

Investigations on the incident are ongoing, UKMTO said in the tweet, without providing further details. "Vessels are advised to exercise caution when transiting this area," it said.

The US Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, couldn't be immediately reached for comment on the attack.

The US Fifth Fleet is responsible for about 2.5 million square miles of area including the Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea.