Crew evacuated as ship hit by Yemen rebels drifts in Red Sea

The crew of a ship that was holed in an attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels has been evacuated and the vessel is drifting in the Red Sea, a security agency said on Friday.

The MV Tutor was abandoned after it was struck by a sea drone off rebel-held Hodeida on Wednesday, causing serious flooding, in the latest in a series of Houthi attacks.

The Iran-backed rebels have been harassing the vital sea lane since shortly after the start of the Israel-Hamas war, forcing much marine traffic into lengthy detours.

"The crew of the vessel has been evacuated by military authorities," said the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which is run by the British navy.

"The vessel has been abandoned and is drifting."

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos had earlier pledged to help the Filipino seamen on board and transfer them to Djibouti, across the Red Sea from Yemen, with the UKMTO's help.

"We are doing everything that we can do," he said in a statement.

The Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated merchant ship was hit by a sea drone and an "unknown aerial projectile", the U.S. military's Central Command said on Wednesday.

Security firm Ambrey said it was the first time the Huthis had hit a ship using remote-controlled, water-borne explosives.

It was one of a surge of attacks this week, one of which badly injured a sailor who was evacuated by US forces from the MV Verbena in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday.

They follow the latest retaliatory strikes by U.S. and British forces last month which killed 16 people, according to the Huthis, who threatened to escalate their activities.

- 'Spy network' -

On Thursday, the United Nations special envoy Hans Grundberg warned of a slide back towards full-blown hostilities after a lull in Yemen's civil war.

"If the parties continue the current escalatory trajectory, the question is not if but when the parties revert to escalation on the battlefield," he told the U.N. Security Council in a briefing.

Apart from the Red Sea attacks, the Huthis this week arrested more than a dozen aid workers, including U.N. staff, accusing them of being part of a "U.S.-Israeli spy network."

U.N. human rights chief Volker Turk dismissed the "outrageous allegations" and demanded their immediate release.

Condemning the detentions "in the strongest terms", Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain and the United States demanded the workers' "immediate and unconditional release," in a joint statement calling the episode "an affront to international peace and security."

Last week, at least 18 combatants were killed in battles between the Huthis and Yemeni government forces in the country's southwest, two military officials told AFP.

Meanwhile, a dispute between rival monetary authorities in rebel and government-controlled areas threatens to cut off banks in the capital Sanaa from international transactions, further roiling Yemen's stricken economy.

The Houthis, who control much of Yemen, seized Sanaa in 2014, prompting a Saudi-led military intervention in support of the government the following year.

They say their scores of Red Sea attacks since November are in support of Palestinians in Gaza as part of Iran's "axis of resistance" to the United States and Israel.

Among the most notable attacks, the Houthis stormed and hijacked a vehicle-carrier, the Galaxy Leader, in November, later opening it as a tourist attraction for propaganda purposes.

In March, the Rubymar bulk carrier, carrying thousands of tonnes of fertiliser, sank in the Red Sea after its hull was damaged in a Huthi missile strike.

Yemen's war has left hundreds of thousands of people dead, through fighting or indirect causes such as disease or lack of food, with most of the population dependent on aid.

Source: Agence France Presse

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