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Yacht carrying Russians, Egyptians goes missing off Yemen coast

The yacht’s owner says the crew sent a distress call about a pirate attack.
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. (Photo by Khaled Ziad / AFP) (Photo by KHALED ZIAD/AFP via Getty Images)

A private yacht carrying three Russians and two Egyptians went missing several days ago near the coast of Yemen in the Red Sea, its owner said on Monday.

The 19-meter (62-foot) vessel, named “30 Minutes,” had reportedly taken off from Port Said in Egypt a week ago and was bound to Djibouti. Owner Dmitriy Chuguevskiy, a Russian based in Dubai, told The Associated Press that he last tracked the vessel’s location close to Farasan Island near Jazan in Saudi Arabia, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Houthi-controlled northern Yemen, before it went off the grid last week.

The Russian Embassy in Riyadh said in a statement on Sunday that the yacht refueled last Monday in the port of Jazan, but “radio contact was lost” two days later.

According to Chuguevskiy, the yacht made a distress call that it had come under a pirate attack. Saudi authorities reportedly heard the call, but have yet to comment on the incident.

The Russian Embassy added in its statement that it was working with the authorities in Saudi Arabia to determine the fate of the missing yacht and its passengers.

Both the US Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet and a European Union anti-piracy patrol active in the area told AP they were looking into the reports on the missing yacht. The Fifth Fleet, however, said it did not receive a distress call.

Somalia-based pirates have been active since the 1990s in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Amid the ongoing instability in Somalia, piracy has turned into an organized transnational activity threatening key maritime routes in the area. The Washington-based Progressive Policy Institute estimated last year that a total of 50 ships cross these waters daily and 3.4 million barrels of oil transit the area on a daily basis.

In 2011, 237 pirate attacks were recorded off the coast of Somalia, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Several international efforts have been deployed to counter this phenomenon. In 2002, a US-led multinational maritime partnership known as the Combined Maritime Forces was established to patrol the waters in the region and fight terrorism and piracy. Last year, the Iranian navy claimed to have foiled a pirate attack against an Iranian merchant vessel in Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The area has also been the scene of Houthi attacks on foreign ships since the war in Yemen broke out in 2014. In January last year, the Iran-backed Houthis seized the UAE-flagged RWABEE cargo ship off the coast of Hodeidah in the Red Sea, claiming it was carrying military equipment.

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