For illustrative purposes only. A boat sailing in Bab Al Mandab strait. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Cairo: Iran-aligned rebels have hijacked a vessel south of the Red Sea, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said on Monday.

Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency quoted coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki as saying that Houthi rebels seized the vessel while it was towing a South Korean drilling rig the previous day.

Al-Malki said the ``attack’’ threatens vital shipping routes in the Bab al-Mandeb strait, used for oil shipments from the Gulf to Europe, as well as goods from Asia to Europe.

In a meeting with the South Korean ambassador to Yemen, Yemeni Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdullah al-Hadrami sharply condemned the seizure of the ship and called for its immediate release, according to a government statement.

``These provocative and illegal actions will negatively affect the freedom of international navigation,’’ he said.

The Houthi rebels said in a statement that they had seized three vessels including, a Saudi one, allegedly for entering Yemeni waters.

The rebels said the vessels were three miles off the Yemeni island of Uqban.

The statement said that the Houthi coast guard forced the vessels to head to Salif port in the Red Sea province of Hodeida.

The Houthis have in the past targeted oil tankers and military ships belonging to Saudi Arabia and its partners in the coalition fighting in Yemen’s war since 2015.