Iran sent two warships to the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday, state media reported, establishing a military presence off the coast of Yemen where Saudi Arabia is leading a bombing campaign to oust the Iran-allied Houthi movement.
The Alborz destroyer and Bushehr support vessel sailed from Bandar Abbas on a mission to protect Iranian shipping from piracy, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said in comments cited by Press TV.
Saudi Arabia and several Arab allies have imposed an air and naval blockade on Yemen as part of a two-week campaign to oust the Houthis, who have taken most of the country and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to Riyadh.
Iran has condemned the campaign and called for dialogue. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of providing military support to the Houthis, a charge the Islamic Republic denies.
The Iranian ships will patrol the Gulf of Aden, south of Yemen, and the Red Sea, Sayyari said. The area is one of the world's most important shipping routes and a gateway between Europe and the Middle East.
At least four oil and natural gas tankers that were headed to Yemen have been diverted as chaos mounts in the country after the launch of Saudi-led air strikes last month, according to industry sources and ship tracking data.
Fighting in Yemen is scaring off shippers and has forced the country's LNG export plant to take one of its production plants, or trains, off line.
Yemen's Aden Refinery was supposed to issue a tender last week to seek oil product imports for May, but has now suspended the tender process and is waiting for the situation in the country to stabilize, an industry source in Yemen told Reuters.
An oil tanker Hong Ze Hu, which was chartered by Italian oil company ENI to carry 60,000 tons of high sulfur gasoil from South Korea to Yemen's Little Aden for delivery in April, turned around near Colombo on April 4 and is now near Singapore, traders and shipbrokers said.
ENI did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
"Insurance companies are rejecting to berth the vessels in Yemen, so some of the vessels are refusing to berth there," a trader familiar with operations in Yemen said.
Three LNG carriers, Provalys, STX Kolt and Grace Acacia, were headed towards Yemen's LNG export terminal in Balhaf earlier this month, but were all diverted, Reuters ship-tracking map showed.
The Provalys was set to arrive at Balhaf on April 6 but changed its course on April 4 and is now in the Red Sea. The STX Kolt was due to arrive at Balhaf on April 4 but was diverted on April 1 and is currently sitting off the northern coast of Oman.
The third tanker, Grace Acacia, was due to arrive at the Yemen LNG plant on April 10 but was diverted on April 8 and is currently headed north in the Arabian Sea.
Last month, a Saudi-led coalition began conducting air strikes in Yemen against Houthi rebels, prompting Yemen to shut its major seaports.
Cpyright Reuters 2015.