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War shuts down Yemen sea ports

Fighting between the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the government, backed by Saudi Arabia and others, has caused a near-complete shutdown of the country’s container ports, hurting humanitarian relief efforts and international trade.

On 11 April, Yemen’s foreign minister Riyadh Yassin said: “Yemen has banned entry into its territorial waters and has authorised coalition countries to implement the decision.”

Shipping lines including Maersk Line, MSC and Evergreen Line have therefore suspended all calls to the country or diverted them away.

A statement from international shipping association BIMCO on 13 April said: “It is understood that only emergency food and medical aid vessels will be allowed entry and even then only after being searched.”

On 21 April, Christina Corbett, a spokesperson for the charity Oxfam, confirmed that this was still the case, telling CM: “Only limited humanitarian supplies are coming in. In addition to the closure of ports and the impact on supplies coming into the country, fuel shortages as well as the general levels of insecurity through the country means that moving what little aid is getting through is proving extremely challenging logistically.”

A staff member based in Yemen from the charity Islamic Relief agreed with this but added that the land border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia is open. “Importing goods from Saudi Arabia is possible and business there is running well, except in some critical times due to security conditions,” she told CM.

One of the key battlegrounds which the two sides are fighting for control over is the city of Aden, where the country’s biggest port is based. Analysts have said that Aden will be very important strategically in any potential ground invasion of the Yemen.

A source at the Port of Aden told CM that nobody had been to work at the port for a month and that the situation was still in “a very bad condition”. “We hope that things will be better in the near future,” he said.

According to Oxfam, food prices have doubled in recent weeks although it estimates that prior to the conflict’s latest escalation, 10m Yemenis were “going hungry” daily.

Yemen relies on imports to meet more than 80% of national food consumption, with 90% of staple food items, such as wheat, and all rice imported.

Grace Ommer, the charity’s director in Yemen, said: “A permanent end to the conflict must be found now and land, sea and air routes must be re-opened to allow basic commodities like food, fuel and medical supplies to reach millions in desperate need.”

Meanwhile, on 22 April, Gavin Simmonds, policy director of the UK Chamber of Shipping, said that insecurity in Yemen is unlikely to threaten ships passing through the Mandeb Strait (Bab-el-Mandeb), which separates Yemen from Djibouti and Eritrea.