The Houthi seizure and detention of the UAE-flagged vessel Rwabee by the Houthis was condemned by the UN Security Council unanimously on Friday.
The militia captured the cargo ship from the Yemeni port of Hodeidah in an Iranian-backed and premeditated operation, according to the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen.
The UN’s most powerful body requested the immediate release of the vessel and its crew, encouraging the Houthis to ensure the crew’s wellbeing and safety until their release, in a statement issued by the UK.
Members of the Security Council further urged all parties to “resolve the situation expeditiously” and emphasized the importance of international law-abiding freedom of navigation in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea.
The Houthis seized the UAE-flagged Rwabee ship on Jan. 3, coinciding with a large commemoration in Tehran commemorating the second anniversary of a US drone strike in Baghdad that killed a prominent Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani. The ship was taken by the Houthis near the coast of Hodeidah, Yemen’s biggest port, because it was transporting military equipment, according to the Houthis.
“The importance of safeguarding the crew’s safety and well-being until their release,” the Security Council said.
The UN mission in charge of overseeing the implementation of a cease-fire and the withdrawal of rival forces from Hodeida and the two smaller ports of Salif and Ras Issa tweeted on Thursday that as part of its weekly patrol, its team “saw the Rwabee vessel from a distance and spoke to its crew members.” There were no specifics provided.
The capture of the Rwabee was the most recent attack in the Red Sea, a vital trade and oil shipping route.
Yemen has been engulfed in civil war since the Houthis gained control of the city, Sanaa, and much of the northern half of the nation in 2014, compelling the government to evacuate to the south and then to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition, which included the United Arab Emirates and was backed by the US at the time, entered the war months later, in 2015, with the goal of restoring the government to power.
Since then, the conflict has devolved into a regional proxy war, with tens of thousands of civilians and fighters dead. The war has also triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with millions of people facing food and medical shortages, and the country on the verge of famine.
The Saudi-led coalition accused the Houthis of “armed piracy” involving the Rwabee, claiming the ship was carrying medical supplies from a demolished Saudi field hospital on Yemen’s remote island of Socotra, without providing any evidence.
Saudi state media claimed the Houthis had transported the weapons onto the ship after the Houthis released video footage from the Rwabee of military-style inflatable rafts, trucks, and other vehicles on the ship, as well as what seemed to be a stockpile of rifles inside a container.