AL-MUKALLA: There have been calls for Eritrea to release dozens of Yemeni fishermen who were caught last week after sailing into a maritime flashpoint.
On Wednesday 15 armed boats from Eritrea’s navy seized 120 Yemeni fishermen from the Red Sea between Hanish Islands and the coast of Khokha.
Eritrea briefly occupied the Hanish Islands in 1995 before retreating after the international arbitration court granted Yemen sovereignty over them. But Yemeni authorities complain that the Eritreans have attacked and seized hundreds of Yemeni fishermen over the last couple of years.
The most recent incursion triggered a brief clash with the Yemeni coastguards that ended with the capture of seven Eritreans, local security officials said. On Thursday the Eritreans released 62 Yemeni fishermen after confiscating their boats.
“We demand all concerned authorities to work on releasing our colleagues and their boats that are in Eritrea’s custody,” Khaled Al-Zarnouqi, the head of Yemen’s Shabab Al- Khokha fishery association, told Arab News on Saturday. “We demand the international community, the (Saudi-led) coalition and the (Yemeni) government to protect us from the repeated attacks by Eritrea’s navy that violates Yemeni sovereignty, attacks Yemeni fishermen and seizes boats.”
Hashem, one of the fishermen who was released on Thursday, said that armed Eritrean vessels approached their boats on Tuesday and asked them to sail to Eritrea’s Ras Tarma.
“They were tough,” Hashem told Arab News, preferring to be identified by his first name. “Before releasing us, they gave us little fuel and rickety boats and asked us to sail back home.”
The Eritreans refused to release their boats. “Each boat costs YER2.5 million ($9,987). They seized the finest and most expensive boats and allowed us to sail back with the worst ones.”
Local security officials and fishermen say that Eritrea’s naval attacks have become more brazen and are getting closer to the Yemeni coastline.
“They have attacked Yemeni fishermen less than 17 miles from the Yemeni coastline,” a local security official who documents Eritrea’s navy attacks on Yemeni fishermen told Arab News. “The Eritreans are also still holding 24 fishermen who were detained in the Red Sea on Dec. 1, 2019 and refuse to release them,” he said, adding that many fishermen were thinking of taking up arms to protect themselves.
Yemen’s coast guard authority crumbled in early 2015 when the Iran-backed Houthis expanded across Yemen after taking over Sanaa, triggering heavy clashes with their opponents.
Since the beginning of its military operations in Yemen in support of the internationally- recognized government, the Saudi-led coalition has trained and armed hundreds of coast guard troops and deployed them along the country’s coastline.
Yemeni officials say they are battling Eritrea’s navy attacks, Houthi arms' smugglers and drug gangs.