By Reuters 2015-05-12 13:33:51
Iranian warships will accompany a cargo ship bound for the Yemeni port of Hodaida, which is held by Iran-allied Houthi fighters, a naval commander was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA on Tuesday.
The Iran-flagged Iran Shahed cargo ship set sail on Monday and could be intercepted by Saudi-led coalition forces, which are blockading Yemen as part of a military campaign against the Houthis.
“The 34th fleet, which is currently in the Gulf of Aden, has special responsibility to protect the Iranian humanitarian aid ship,” Admiral Hossein Azad said, referring to a destroyer and support vessel patrolling international waters off Yemen.
A five-day ceasefire in Yemen’s civil war is set to take effect at 11 p.m. (2000 GMT) to allow food and medicine into the blockaded country, which aid groups warn faces a humanitarian catastrophe.
The Saudi-led coalition has accused Iran of arming the Houthis and routinely intercepts cargoes bound for Yemen. Last month, coalition jets bombed the runway at Sanaa airport to prevent an Iranian cargo plane from landing.
Tehran says it is sending only humanitarian aid to Yemen.
The Iran Shahed vessel was sailing away from Iran’s coast into the Gulf of Oman at 1334 GMT, ship tracking data on Reuters showed.
Iran’s Fars news agency reported separately that seven activists from the United States and Europe, including from Germany, were on board the ship.
The vessel’s Tehran-based owner Valfajr Shipping, which was listed on shipping databases, could not be immediately reached for comment.
Update: U.S. Government Statement
The White House on Tuesday urged Iran to use a United Nations distribution hub in Djibouti to provide assistance to people in Yemen, after Tehran said it had sent humanitarian aid by cargo ship.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he expects Iran’s humanitarian assistance to occur within the United Nations process.