EU warns Houthis against blocking access to decaying tanker

A satellite image off the FSO Safer oil tanker on June 19, 2020, off the port of Ras Isa. (AFP)
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Updated 28 October 2020

EU warns Houthis against blocking access to decaying tanker

  • The Iran-backed militia is under pressure to allow inspection and maintenance of the Safer tanker, amid reports that parts of it have been eroded by rust
  • The Houthis insist on sharing the proceeds from the sale of the tanker’s cargo and including engineers from China, Russia and Germany in the UN inspection team

AL-MUKALLA: The Houthis will be held accountable for a “regional catastrophe” if they continue to block access to a decaying oil tanker in the Red Sea, the EU has warned.

The Iran-backed militia is under pressure to allow inspection and maintenance of the Safer tanker, amid reports that parts of it have been eroded by rust. 

The Houthis insist on sharing the proceeds from the sale of the tanker’s cargo – more than a million barrels of oil – and including engineers from China, Russia and Germany in the UN team of experts that would visit the tanker.

“The EU Heads of Mission call on Ansarallah (Houthis) to fully cooperate with the UN by allowing the team of experts to have unhindered access to the vessel and without preconditions or delay,” the EU delegation to Yemen said on Tuesday. “Unless the UN team is provided unhindered access, Ansarallah would be accountable in the event of a regional catastrophe and must therefore act with a sense of urgency and responsibility.”

The delegation warned that an oil spill would paralyze the port of Hodeidah, where most of the country’s food, fuel and goods pass through, and exacerbate Yemen’s already dire humanitarian situation. “It would heavily affect fisheries in the Red Sea coast as well as the marine ecosystem and may affect maritime trade,” the EU statement added.

The internationally recognized government of Yemen has accused the Houthis of using the decaying tanker as leverage to extract concessions, putting the lives of millions of people at risk and endangering the Red Sea’s entire marine ecosystem.

On Sunday, Information Minister Muammar Al-Aryani told the official news agency Saba that the international community had not been able to convince the Houthis to allow UN experts to board the tanker.

“For years, the Houthi militia has continued to play with this file, using it to achieve political and financial gains,” the minister said. 

Earlier this month, a virtual meeting between the UN Yemen envoy’s office and the UN Office for Project Services with the Houthis about access ended in a deadlock after the rebels rejected the request.

On the battlefields, heavy fighting broke out in the northern province of Jouf during the last two days as government forces announced recapturing areas from the Houthis. 

Yemen’s Ministry of Defense and local media reports said that army troops and allied tribesmen seized control of mountains near Al-Khanjer military base, east of Jouf, following a fresh assault on the Houthis.

Arab coalition aircraft targeted Houthi military gatherings and equipment east of Hazen, the provincial capital, preventing the Houthis from launching counterattacks on government forces.

At least two dozen Houthis were killed on Tuesday in heavy fighting in the Al-Makhdara region, west of Marib province. Fighting also claimed the lives of dozens of government troops, including high-ranking officers.

State media reported that Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his deputy Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmer were mourning Brig. Saleh Al-Farja Al-Shanani, a military commander, who was killed in Jouf. 

Col. Abdullah Bin Dhaen, the director of Jouf’s Al-Matammah District, was killed on Tuesday during an offensive, Rabia Al-Qurashi, the Yemeni army spokesman in the province, tweeted.


German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

Updated 24 November 2020

German defense minister rejects Turkey complaint over Libya weapons ship search

  • Germany insists it acted correctly in boarding a Turkish ship to enforce arms embargo of Libya
  • Turkey summoned European diplomats to complain at the operation

BERLIN: Germany’s defense minister on Tuesday rejected Turkey’s complaints over the search of a Turkish freighter in the Mediterranean Sea by a German frigate participating in a European mission, insisting that German sailors acted correctly.
Sunday’s incident prompted Turkey to summon diplomats representing the European Union, Germany and Italy and assert that the Libya-bound freighter Rosaline-A was subjected to an “illegal” search by personnel from the German frigate Hamburg. The German ship is part of the European Union’s Irini naval mission, which is enforcing an arms embargo against Libya.
German officials say that the order to board the ship came from Irini’s headquarters in Rome and that Turkey protested while the team was on board. The search was then ended.
Turkey says the search was “unauthorized and conducted by force.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer backed the German crew’s actions.
“It is important to me to make really clear that the Bundeswehr soldiers behaved completely correctly,” she said during an appearance in Berlin. “They did what is asked of them in the framework of the European Irini mandate.”
“That there is this debate with the Turkish side points to one of the fundamental problems of this European mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer added, without elaborating. “But it is very important to me to say clearly here that there are no grounds for these accusations that are now being made against the soldiers.”
This was the second incident between Turkey and naval forces from a NATO ally enforcing an arms blockade against Libya.
In June, NATO launched an investigation over an incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, after France said one of its frigates was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar when it tried to approach a Turkish civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking.
Turkey supports a UN-backed government in Tripoli against rival forces based in the country’s east. It has complained that the EU naval operation focuses its efforts too much on the Tripoli administration and turns a blind eye to weapons sent to the eastern-based forces.
In Ankara, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said that Irini was “flawed from the onset.”
“It is not based on firm international legal foundations,” Akar said. He renewed Turkey’s criticism of the German ship’s actions.
“The incident was against international laws and practices. It was wrong,” he said.
Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that “Turkey is still an important partner for us in NATO.” Turkey being outside the military alliance would make the situation even more difficult, she argued, and Turkish soldiers are “absolutely reliable partners” in NATO missions.
But she conceded that Turkey poses “a big challenge” because of how its domestic politics have developed and because it has its “own agenda, which is difficult to reconcile with European questions in particular.”