DUBAI May 17 An Iranian cargo ship carrying aid
and activists crossed into the Gulf of Aden on Sunday and will
reach Yemen's Hodaida port on May 21, Iranian media reported, in
a challenge to Saudi-led naval forces controlling Yemeni waters.
A coalition of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia has
imposed searches on all ships trying to enter Yemen in a bid to
prevent weapons being smuggled to the Iran-allied Houthi rebel
group which controls much of the country, including Hodaida.
Iranian officials last week said they would not allow the
Saudi-led forces to inspect the Iran Shahed, which is under
military escort, and warned of war if the cargo ship was
"After entering the Gulf of Aden today... we expect to be in
the confines of Hodaida port early on May 21," the Iran Shahed's
captain, Massoud Ghazi Mirsaid, was quoted as saying by state
news agency IRNA.
Iran says the ship is carrying food aid, medical volunteers
and seven Western activists, one of whom was identified by the
Tasnim news agency as Caleb Maupin, a native of Ohio who has
campaigned against war and the U.S. financial system.
"If they prevent (the ship from docking), which is likely,
this is a major human rights violation," Tasnim quoted Maupin as
saying in an interview on board the ship.
The presence of foreign activists has previously complicated
plans to intercept ships carrying them. Israel faced criticism
in 2010 when its forces raided a Gaza-bound flotilla, resulting
in the deaths of nine Turkish activists on board. A 10th Turk
died in May 2014 from wounds sustained in the incident.
Maupin also criticised a plea from his native United States
that Iran redirect the ship to Djibouti, where the United
Nations is coordinating relief efforts.
Reuters ship tracking data showed the Iran Shahed located
off the coast of eastern Yemen at 1110 GMT, heading west towards
the Bab el-Mandeb strait, one of the world's busiest oil
Yemen's Vice President Khaled Bahah said on Sunday his
administration favoured an extension of a five-day ceasefire
expiring in the evening but this would depend on the situation
on the ground.
(Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Editing by William Maclean)