(Bloomberg) -- South Korea said Yemeni Houthi rebels have released three ships they seized earlier this week that included two vessels from South Korea and one from Saudi Arabia.
All 16 crew members including two South Korean nationals were released around 6:40 p.m. Tuesday Yemen time, the foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday, adding that they were let go 45 hours after being taken captive late Sunday.
The South Korean tug and sand dredger -- Woongjin T-1100 and Woongjin G-16 -- and a Saudi tug with 10 people on board departed for Saudi Arabia’s Jazan port on Wednesday. The vessels are expected to arrive in two days, it said.
“The results come from cooperation with U.S. and allies, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the U.A.E.’s efforts,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said, adding that the government plans to “proceed with activities to prevent similar incidents from taking place” without elaborating.
The Saudi ship, Rabigh 3, was hijacked by Houthi “terrorist elements” on board two boats at 10:58 p.m. on Sunday, said coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Al-Malki, according to a statement issued by state-run Saudi Press Agency on Monday.
The Iran-backed Houthis have been fighting a Saudi-led military coalition since 2015, a war that has regularly sent tensions in the Gulf soaring. A U.S.-led maritime coalition formally launched operations in the region earlier this month, following a series of attacks on vessels and onshore facilities that some coalition members blamed on Iran.
South Korea deployed its Cheonghae naval unit from around Oman to the area after the incident. The Cheonghae unit, with about 300 personnel, includes the destroyer Dae Jo-yeong, an anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats, according to the latest annual defense white paper. It’s been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009 for anti-piracy operations and used in recent years to help evacuate South Korea citizens from Libya and Yemen.
Both South Korean vessels were owned by builder Woongjin Development Co., the foreign ministry said. Al Arabiya news channel reported earlier on Monday that one of the seized ships was a drilling rig.
(Updates with details on vessels’ release.)
--With assistance from Peter Pae and Verity Ratcliffe.
To contact the reporters on this story: Kyungji Cho in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org;Jihye Lee in Seoul at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nayla Razzouk at firstname.lastname@example.org, ;Ramsey Al-Rikabi at email@example.com, Jon Herskovitz
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