The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen said the Houthis seized a vessel towing a South Korean drilling rig at the southern end of the Red Sea.
The vessel was seized on Sunday by armed Houthis, Coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said in a statement carried by Saudi state media. He did not say how many crew members were aboard.
South Korea said two of its vessels were captured, a tug boat and a sand dredger, each with one South Korean national aboard.
Four crew members of unknown nationalities were also on board, the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
Both vessels are owned by South Korean builder Woongjin Development, a company official told Reuters.
Ten foreign nationals were on board a towing vessel belonging to Saudi Arabia which was seized along with the South Korean vessels, the South Korean ministry said.
A South Korean navy ship conducting anti-piracy operations in the Arabian Sea near Oman was ordered to where the vessels were seized, the ministry said.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a senior Houthi official told Reuters the group’s forces seized a “suspect vessel” in the Red Sea and the crew were being treated well.
“Yemeni coast guards are checking to see whether the ship belongs to countries of aggression or to South Korea, in which case it will be released after legal procedures,” he said.
The Houthis’ Al-Masirah TV said three ships were seized near Uqban island, including one belonging to Saudi Arabia and taken to the Yemeni port Salif.
The coalition spokesman said the ship seizure was a “terrorist operation” that posed a threat to freedom of international navigation and world trade.
The Saudi-led alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after the group ousted the internationally recognised government from power in Sanaa.
Houthi forces were driven away from most of Yemen’s coast but still hold Hodeidah, the country’s biggest Red Sea port and base of the group’s navy.