Yemen PM warns against bowing to Houthi bullying over tanker

Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 27 July 2020

Yemen PM warns against bowing to Houthi bullying over tanker

  • Decaying vessel has over 1m barrels of crude

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s prime minister said the international community should take strong action against Houthi “blackmailing and bargaining” over a decaying oil tanker, the state news agency Saba reported, as he warned about a looming environmental disaster in the Red Sea.

The Safer tanker is carrying more than a million barrels of crude oil and is marooned off the Yemeni city of Hodeidah. Rust has eroded parts of the ship, allowing water to enter.

Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed, speaking to Russia’s ambassador to the country,  said that the Iran-backed Houthi group had reneged on previous promises to allow UN experts to board the tanker and that there was the risk of heavy pollution. 

The ship has not been repaired since 2014, when the Houthis seized control of Hodeidah. The militia has banned international engineers from visiting the ship and insisted on sharing the cargo’s revenues.

Saeed urged the international community, the UN, the Security Council and the Russians to put maximum pressure on the rebels in order to avoid an environmental disaster, adding that his government welcomed and would comply with all solutions that would lead to emptying the tanker.

The Yemeni government has suggested selling the oil and using the revenues to pay public servants in Hodeidah and other Yemeni provinces as it fears the Houthis might use the money to pay their fighters.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Hadrami also shared his concerns about oil leaks from the tanker in a phone call with Germany’s ambassador to Yemen, Karola Molar.

Al-Hadrami urged continued pressure on the Houthis until they allowed UN experts to see the tanker, Saba reported.

Human Rights Watch on Monday criticized the Houthis’ “reckless” denial to allow UN experts to board the ship, urging the Iranian regime to use its leverage to convince the Houthis to change their mind about the visit and prevent an environmental disaster that could contaminate the Red Sea.

“The Houthi authorities are recklessly delaying UN experts’ access to the deteriorating oil tanker that threatens to destroy entire ecosystems and demolish the livelihoods of millions of people already suffering from Yemen’s war,” Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Governments concerned about Yemen’s humanitarian crisis should recognize the danger the Safer tanker poses and press to avert further tragedy. The Houthis’ continued refusal to allow UN access could result in devastating consequences for the environment and people across Yemen and the wider region,” Simpson added.

Meanwhile the Aden-based Supreme National Emergency Committee announced on Sunday that it had evacuated all Yemenis who had been stranded abroad due to global coronavirus lockdowns.

It repatriated 17,627 citizens who went back home on 114 flights and voyages from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India, Jordan, Djibouti, the UAE, Sudan and Malaysia, the committee said.

But hundreds of stranded Yemenis also entered the country through land crossings with Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Yemen began repatriation flights in late May, despite concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the country.

The stranded citizens were first asked to supply a negative polymerase chain reaction test, before the government replaced this requirement with temperature checks at airports.

In March, Yemen’s internationally recognized government canceled flights to and from the country’s airports to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Thousands of Yemenis stranded abroad appealed to the government to arrange rescue flights for them as they had run out of money.

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 15 min 28 sec ago

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”