20 nov 2019
After South Korea deployed a destroyer and called for American assistance, Houthi rebel forces released two Korean vessels and one Saudi tug that they had captured near Hodeidah on Sunday night.
The vessels – identified as the Woongjin T-1100, Woongjin G-16 and Rabigh 3 – were boarded and seized by Houthi forces at about 2300 hours on Sunday. The captured ships and the 16 seafarers on board were taken to the Yemeni town of Salif, and Houthi authorities announced an investigation into the vessels’ presence in Houthi-claimed waters. Two of those captured were South Korean nationals, according to the South Korean foreign ministry.
After learning of the seizure, the South Korean government tasked the destroyer Dae Jo-yeong and accompanying assets to respond to the scene. The Dae Jo-yeong is the primary component of South Korea’s Cheonghae naval unit, which maintains an anti-piracy patrol in the nearby Gulf of Aden.
On Wednesday, all three captured vessels were released and got under way for the Saudi port of Jazan, where they are expected to arrive Friday. South Korea credited its allies for the positive outcome. “The results come from cooperation with U.S. and allies, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the U.A.E.’s efforts,” said the South Korean foreign ministry in a statement.
Since the Yemeni civil war begain in 2014, Houthi forces have conducted a series of attacks on Saudi merchant and military shipping through multiple technical means, including naval mines, missiles and remote-controlled bomb boats. In 2017, a Houthi-operated bomb boat struck and damaged the Saudi frigate Al-Madinah, killing two crewmembers and injuring three others. Saudi-led forces claim to have intercepted multiple similar bomb boats over the years since, including two in October 2018 which were allegedly aimed at the port of Jizan. Houthi forces have claimed that they have conducted additional successful attacks, though Saudi reports differ.
Initial media reports indicated that Houthi forces had seized a South Korean offshore drilling rig. The Woongjin G-16 is a 150-foot grab dredger, the Woongjin T-1100 is a 70-foot tugboat and the Rabigh 3 is a Saudi offshore tug.