Wednesday April 26, 2023
By JON GAMBRELL
This is a locator map for Yemen with its capital, Sanaa. (AP Photo)
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A yacht carrying three Russians and two Egyptians reportedly went missing days ago off the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea. Its owner alleged on Monday that armed pirates took the vessel.
The reported disappearance of the 30 Minutes, a 19-meter (62-foot) yacht registered in Panama to a Russian based in Dubai, comes as other vessels have faced attacks from Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels amid the war tearing apart the Arab world’s poorest nation.
However, the Houthis did not immediately acknowledge taking the vessel and details about the ship remain scarce.
The 30 Minutes last sent location data showing that it was off Farasan Island near Jazan, Saudi Arabia, on April 19, owner Dmitriy Chuguevskiy told The Associated Press. The vessel then disappeared, not reaching Djibouti, where it had been scheduled to arrive, he said.
Chuguevskiy said the ship did not carry an Automatic Identification System transponder, which is standard for ships moving through dangerous or busy waterways.
On Sunday, the Russian Embassy in Saudi Arabia issued a statement saying that “radio contact was lost with the ship.”
“In cooperation with the Saudi authorities, we continue to take all necessary actions to clarify the fate of the missing ship, as well as to provide prompt assistance to Russian citizens on board,” the embassy said.
Chuguevskiy, however, alleged that the 30 Minutes’ Egyptian captain had been able to make a distress call, heard by Saudi authorities, saying the vessel was under attack by armed pirates.
“Our assumption is they got kidnapped,” Chuguevskiy said.
A picture taken on February 21, 2022 shows fishing boats off a beach on Yemen's Red Sea coast in the Khokha district of the war-ravaged country's western province of Hodeida. - KHALED ZIAD/AFP via Getty Images
It remains to be seen what action, if any, Saudi officials took after the claimed distress call. The Saudi government did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the AP.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a British military watch over Mideast shipping, said its staff had been “made aware of an incident in the area and are carrying out (an) investigation.” A European Union anti-piracy patrol in the region, called Operation Atalanta, said it was “monitoring the situation in order to clarify the event due to the lack of reliable information about it.”
Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet, told the AP that it too was aware of the “reporting suggesting the vessel is missing and are now looking into the situation.”
“U.S. 5th Fleet did not receive a distress call from this vessel,” Hawkins said.
The Houthis have carried out other at-sea attacks amid Yemen’s long war. In January 2022, the Houthis seized the Emirati ship Rwabee. The Houthis described the vessel as carrying military weapons, while the Saudi-led coalition described it as carrying disassembled hospital equipment. The ship and its Indian crew were later released.
In May, the Lakota, a 62-foot (19-meter) trimaran purchased by famed French yachtsman Philippe Poupon, found itself attacked off the coast of Hodeida, Yemen. Militants fired some 20 warning shots and displayed assault rifles and the rocket-propelled grenade launchers. One briefly boarded the ship before fleeing.
A Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015. However, a recent prisoner swap has raised hopes of a formal armistice between them.