Resolution backed by 11 members also calls for the immediate release of the seized Galaxy Leader’s multinational crew.
The UN Security Council has passed a resolution demanding Yemen’s Houthis end attacks on ships in the Red Sea and free the Japanese-operated Galaxy Leader that was seized last year.
Eleven members of the council voted on Wednesday for the measure calling on the Iran-aligned Houthis to “immediately cease all attacks, which impede global commerce and navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace”.
Four members – Algeria, China, Mozambique and Russia – abstained. None voted against. As permanent members of the council, China and Russia have vetoes but chose not to use them.
“The world’s message to the Houthis today was clear: Cease these attacks immediately,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement after the vote. The US sponsored the resolution alongside Japan.
“With this resolution, the Council has lived up to its responsibility to help ensure the free flow of lawful transit through the Red Sea continues unimpeded,” Thomas-Greenfield added.
The US says the Iran-backed Houthis have carried out 26 attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea since commandeering the Galaxy Leader and its 25-strong multinational crew on November 19.
The Houthis claim they are targeting Israeli-linked or Israel-bound vessels in protest against the ongoing war on Gaza, but many of the ships have had no discernible link with the country, and many lines have begun to avoid the area altogether.
The key provision of the resolution noted the right of United Nations member states, in accordance with international law, “to defend their vessels from attack, including those that undermine navigational rights and freedoms”.
The provision amounts to an implicit endorsement of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a US-led multinational naval task force, including the United Kingdom and Norway, that was established in December to defend commercial shipping from Houthi attacks.
Norway has one of the world’s largest merchant shipping fleets, and its vessels have been targeted by the Houthis.
Earlier on Wednesday, the US military said that it had shot down 21 Houthi missiles and drones that were part of a “complex attack” on southern Red Sea shipping lanes. The UK, which worked with the US to thwart the Houthi attack, said it was the largest in the area so far.
The US accuses Iran of providing critical support for the Houthi attacks, including advanced missiles and drones, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Tehran denies the allegations.
Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of Yemen’s Houthi supreme revolutionary committee in Yemen, dismissed the UN resolution as a “political game” and claimed the US was the one violating international law.
The Red Sea links the Middle East and Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal and its narrow Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Nearly 10 percent of all oil trade and an estimated $1 trillion in goods pass through the strait every year.
At the time of its hijack, the Galaxy Leader – although ultimately owned by a firm linked to an Israeli businessman – was being operated by a Japanese shipping line with a crew from Bulgaria, Mexico, the Philippines, Romania and Ukraine.
The Houthis have been engaged in a civil war with Yemen’s internationally recognised government since 2014.