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Yemen’s Houthis seize UAE-flagged ship carrying 'military supplies' off Socotra

The Saudi-led coalition claims the ship was carrying medical supplies for a field hospital on the Yemeni island of Socotra
Hodeidah port in the Yemeni port city, around 230 kilometres west of the capital Sanaa (AFP)

The Yemeni Houthi movement has seized an Emirati-flagged cargo ship it said was engaged in "hostile acts" but which Saudi Arabia said was carrying hospital equipment. 

Saudi Brigadier General Turki al-Malki said that the ship named Rawabi was travelling from Yemen's Socotra island, off the country's south coast, and heading to the Saudi port of Jizan, when the Houthis attacked it at midnight on Monday.

Malki added that the ship was carrying medical supplies after finishing a mission to set up a field hospital on the island.

"The boat named Rawabi, bearing the flag of the United Arab Emirates, was pirated and kidnapped at 23:57 (2057 GMT) Sunday while off Hodeidah province," he said.

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"The Houthi militia must immediately release the ship, otherwise the coalition forces shall take all necessary measures and procedures to deal with this violation, including the use of force," Malki said in a statement cited by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The Rawabi was returning to the Saudi city of Jazan carrying medical supplies after finishing a mission to set up a field hospital on the island, Malki said.

'Hostile acts'

But Houthi military spokesperson Brigadier General Yahya Saree said the vessel was carrying military equipment and said the ship was engaged in "hostile acts targeting the security and stability of Yemeni people".

Saree added that the crew of "different nationalities" were still on board and the ship had entered Yemeni waters without permission. 

Mohammed Abdulsalam, the Houthi's chief negotiator, also confirmed the vessel's seizure on the group's Al Masirah news website, describing it as an "unprecedented" operation for the movement. 

The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Houthis for the last seven years. 
In 2016, Houthi fighters attacked the Emirati vessel SWIFT-1 in the Red Sea as it sailed between Emirati troops bases in Eritrea and Yemen. 

The Emiratis said the SWIFT-1 carried medical equipment, but UN experts later disputed the claim, saying they were "unconvinced of its veracity."

Fighting has intensified over the past few weeks in Yemen. On 25 December, the coalition launched a "large-scale" assault on Yemen after missiles fired by the Houthis killed two people in the kingdom, the first such deaths in three years.

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