SAUDI-LED COALITION FORCES ADVANCE ON AL-HUDAYDAH IN YEMEN
On 13 June forces of the Saudi-backed coalition advanced on the strategic port city of Al-Hudaydah in an attempt to wrest it from control of the opposing Houthi rebels. The offensive comes after Houthi forces defied the coalition’s 12 June 2100 UTC deadline to vacate the city and three days after the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross’s (ICRC) evacuation of staff in anticipation of potential clashes. The consequences for both the humanitarian situation in Yemen and international shipping interests bypassing and accessing Al-Hudaydah Port look set to be significant.
This is the most significant Saudi-led coalition advance on Houthi territory since 2015 and it will likely be the most important battle of the war to date. Around 5,000 forces, led by Emirati military advisers, are reportedly engaged in the attack. At the time of writing, the latest reports indicate that attacking forces are fighting over Al-Hudaydah international airport, just 8km south of the city’s port, and that at least 20 air raids have been carried out across the city. On 17 June the UN Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that over 5,000 households had been displaced since 1 June and require humanitarian assistance.
AL-HUDAYDAH PORT A HUMANITARIAN PRIORITY
Given the severity of the clashes and their impact upon civilians, the operationality of Al-Hudaydah Port is essential to preventing the deterioration of what regional head of the ICRC Robert Mardini calls “an already catastrophic humanitarian situation”. More than 70% of Yemen’s food and fuel supplies enter through Al-Hudaydah Port. In a country with eight million people on the brink of starvation, the closure of the port would likely have detrimental consequences and could provoke a famine – however, international aid agencies have consistently warned of potential famine over the past 12 months.
Presently, the port remains open – on 17 June a World Food Programme-chartered vessel was expected to complete unloading a grain shipment, another vessel carrying humanitarian aid was expected to arrive and five commercial vessels were at berth carrying food and fuel supplies – but its status will be contingent on security developments. On 16 June UN special envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in Sana’a to persuade Houthi forces to hand Al-Hudaydah over to an international committee in order to sustain port operations, but the Houthis, who have occupied the highly coveted port city since 2015, are unlikely to cede its control at present. If the battle for Al-Hudaydah protracts it is therefore possible that the port will close in the short to medium term.
AN INCREASED THREAT TO MARITIME SECURITY
The on-land clashes also contribute to an elevated threat of maritime security incidents for international shipping interests. According to NYA’s MarTrackTM data, since the beginning of 2018 four attacks have been reported off Al-Hudaydah up to as far as 70NM offshore, at least three of which were directly connected to the Yemen conflict. Intelligence gathered by NYA suggests that Houthi forces were likely responsible for all three of those attacks, indicating that the Houthis possess intent and capacity to attack vessels offshore, particularly those waiting to enter the port. One incident on 10 May involving a Turkish-flagged bulk carrier indicates that vessels belonging to country flags not directly involved in the conflict still face a heightened threat of attack, even at a significant distance offshore. With intensifying clashes on land, this threat is unlikely to subside for at least the medium term. There are also unverified reports in international media suggesting the Houthis may have mined the port and could deliberately destroy the port’s infrastructure as part of a ‘scorched earth’ policy.
The battle for Al-Hudaydah is likely to be a lengthy and a costly one. Yemeni news sources on 18 June reported at least 500 Houthi fighters have died since 13 June. A range of factors – from failure to cut off the Houthis’ mountainous supply lines, to the Emiratis’ unproven ability to coordinate significant advances on multiple fronts – are likely to disrupt the UAE’s hopes of a quick and decisive offensive and prolong the threat of an exacerbated humanitarian crisis and to international shipping. Shipping companies operating in the region should monitor developments on land and track transiting vessels closely. NYA can offer bespoke port threat assessments, route risk assessments and 24/7 tracking support to vessels in transit to ensure that our clients can continue to operate in high risk areas.
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*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from NYA authored by Alison Burrell. Read the original post at: https://www.nyarisk.com/2018/06/19/saudi-led-coalition-forces-advance-al-hudaydah-yemen/