Saudi-led coalition foils Houthi attacks on Red Sea ships, Saudi and UAE media say

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Saudi-led military coalition foiled attacks by explosives-laden speedboats deployed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement against commercial vessels, including an oil tanker, in the Red Sea, Saudi and Emirati state media said on Wednesday.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) state news agency WAM reported that UAE coalition forces had destroyed two boats “which were threatening a commercial oil tanker” in the Red Sea. Two other Houthi boats escaped, it added.

Later Saudi state news channel al-Ekhbariya said that remote-controlled speedboats rigged with explosives had tried to attack three commercial vessels being escorted by two coalition warships, but that coalition forces had foiled the attack and destroyed three speedboats.

Neither the Houthis nor a coalition spokesman could immediately be reached for comment.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Sunni Muslim allies have been fighting in Yemen for three years against the Houthis, a Shi’ite group that controls much of North Yemen including the capital Sanaa, and drove a Saudi-backed government into exile in 2014.

The Houthis, who are aligned with the Middle East’s pre-eminent Shi’ite power Iran, have fired missiles into Saudi Arabia. The Saudi-led coalition has carried out a campaign of thousands of airstrikes and restricted imports into Yemen, worsening what the United Nations says is potentially the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The coalition says one of the main justifications for its intervention is to protect shipping routes such as the Red Sea, which is used to bring Middle Eastern oil and Asian goods to Europe through the Suez canal.

The Saudi and Emirati TV reports did not mention whether any of the ships had been damaged in the incident, nor did they provide any identifying details about the commercial vessels.

Last month, a Saudi oil tanker was hit off Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, suffering limited damage, in what coalition forces said was an attack by the Houthis. The Houthis said they had targeted a coalition warship.

Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Katie Paul; Editing by Dale Hudson, William Maclean and Peter Graff