Amid Arab and international condemnation of continued violations committed by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, comes the latest seizure and release of three vessels by the Houthis in the southern part of the Red Sea. This coincides with Tehran’s recognition of the Houthi representative as Iran’s ambassador in Yemen, heightening the concern of the growing security threats by Houthis and Iran to maritime navigation in the region, as well as on the ground in Yemen.
The United Arab Emirates has condemned these irresponsible actions by the Houthi militias, which pose a real threat to international freedom of navigation and trade, and set a dangerous precedent affecting the security of the Bab al-Mandab Strait and the southern Red Sea, according the UAE news agency.
The Houthi militia on Tuesday released the three vessels and 16 people it had seized. Two vessels were south Korean and one Saudi Arabian, South Korea's foreign ministry said on Wednesday, November 20th. The seizure on Sunday, November 17th, was the latest incident in the sea around Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading a Western-backed coalition of Arab states against the Houthis, who control the capital and most population centres and have been accused of attacking shipping, according to Reuters.
The Saudi-led coalition denounced the seizure of the vessels, which included a Korean drilling rig and a Saudi tug, the Rabigh 3, which were captured by armed Houthi militia who attacked from two boats. The Saudis say the Houthis represent a threat to one of the world's most important maritime trade routes. The spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said the seizure was a "terrorist operation" that posed a threat to the freedom of international navigation and world trade.
The Yemeni government accused Teheran of instructing the Houthis to hijack the Korean ships while they were sailing south in the Red Sea, according to Yemeni Information Minister Moammar al-Eryani.
The Saudi-led alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the government from power in Sanaa. Houthi forces have been driven away from most of Yemen's coast during the conflict, but still hold Hodeidah, the country's biggest Red Sea port and the base of the group's navy.
The United Nations confirmed that the incident was not the first time the Houthis have violated international law by seizing vessels in the Red Sea; they captured two oil tankers last year in the Bab al-Mandeb strait at the southern mouth of the Red Sea, as well as a vessel carrying wheat to Yemen.
Sunday's incident occurred nearly two weeks after the start of a US-led naval military alliance to protect shipping in the Gulf and the Red Sea from attacks on ships, which Iran is accused of being behind. The United States and Western countries have accused Iran of mounting attacks against oil tankers and ships in the Gulf waters near the strategic Strait of Hormuz since May, when Washington tightened sanctions on Iran's vital oil sector.
The Yemeni Foreign Affairs Ministry expressed its strong condemnation of Iran’s violation of the UN Charter, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and Security Council's relevant resolutions on Yemen, mainly Resolution 2216, by supporting and recognising the actions of Houthis militia in Yemen. Meanwhile, Houthi media in Sanaa reported that the group's top commander, Ibrahim Mohammed al-Dailami, has presented his credentials to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in his capacity as ambassador to Yemen.
The UN considers Yemen to be the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 14 million people at risk of starvation and repeated outbreaks of deadly diseases like cholera. This crisis is directly linked to the armed conflict. Houthi Militia have blocked and confiscated food and medical supplies and denied access to populations in need. They have imposed onerous restrictions on aid workers and interfered with aid delivery.
However, the Yemeni foreign minister, Mohammed al-Hadrami, earlier criticised what he saw as the UN's negligence in dealing with violations carried out by the Houthi militia. He accused the UN of refraining from naming and condemning the Houthi militias for their actions, pointing out that the UN’s failure to blame the Houthi’s for these violations explicitly and clearly will only encourage further Houthi intransigence and aggression.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report on Yemen, Houthis have repeatedly broken ceasefires, used banned weapons, and have arbitrarily detained people, including children. They have abused detainees and held them in poor conditions, and forcibly disappeared people perceived to be political opponents or security threats. Yemeni human rights groups and lawyers have documented hundreds of cases of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.
Analysts have meanwhile circulated reviews supporting the Yemeni government on signing the Riyadh Agreement on November 5th, paving the way for the government to fulfil its role and meet the aspirations of Yemeni citizens in the liberated areas.
The US ambassador in Yemen underlined that the agreement is an important step towards peace and stability, according to the official Yemeni News Agency. He also expressed the readiness of the US to provide the necessary technical support for the success of the agreement, and the implementation of its provisions. These include Yemen forming an efficient government, with administration staff evenly divided between the southern and northern provinces.