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Houthi rebels release 2 Koreans, 14 others

Crew and three vessels freed 45 hours after capture off Yemen
Nov 21,2019
Houthi rebels on Wednesday released two Koreans and 14 other crew members along with their three vessels - 45 hours after they were nabbed at sea off the western coast of Yemen on Monday.

According to Korea’s Foreign Ministry, all 16 people were released at 12:40 a.m. early Wednesday morning, and they were expected to arrive at Saudi Arabia’s Jizan harbor by Thursday, where they initially departed from before being captured by the Houthi militants around 15 miles off the Yemeni island of Karaman at around 3:50 a.m. on Monday.

“We are coordinating with the Defense and Ocean Ministries and the National Coast Guard, as well as our missions in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates to monitor the situation and ensure the released personnel safely arrive at Jizan harbor,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

The two Koreans - both aged in their sixties - were in safe conditions, said a government official, and their families have been informed of their liberation.

Two of the three vessels, a sand dredger called the G-16 and a tugboat towing the dredger, belong to Woongjin Development and were crossing Yemeni waters in the Red Sea en route to their final destination at the Somalian Port of Berbera when they were hijacked by Houthi forces. The third vessel, another tugboat called the Rabigh-3, was registered to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iranian-backed Houthis on Monday called the seizures of the vessels a “terrorist operation” in line with a series of acts of piracy and kidnapping in the area.

The Houthi movement for its part said the captured vessels and their crew members would be freed if they proved to be Korean, saying the seizures had occurred because the ships had trespassed into Yemeni waters.

The Korean government dispatched its Cheonghae anti-piracy unit from the Omani capital of Muscat toward the site of the abductions on Monday, but the crew members were freed by the Houthis before the unit’s destroyer ROKS Gang Gam-chan arrived at the location.

The Foreign Ministry said the situation was resolved thanks to tight collaboration with its ally the United States as well as well as countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen itself.

“We will share [information] about the situation with our relevant missions in the region and strengthen safety protocols for ships carrying our nationals so that a situation like this does not recur,” said a ministry spokesperson.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]