UN denounces bombing of Hodeidah Port in Yemen as breach of international law

UN denounces bombing of Hodeidah Port in Yemen as breach of international law
The Port of Hodeidah has been at the centre of controversy and fighting

The UN has condemned Saudi coalition airstrikes on the Port of Hodeidah in Northern Yemen, which have resulted in the port’s closure while the country is threatened by famine.

In a statement to the UN Security-Council, Stephen O’Brien, the UN’s under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said: “These attacks are in clear contravention of international humanitarian law and are unacceptable.”

The bombing of the Houthi-stronghold earlier this week caused damage to gantries, straddle carriers, warehousing and silos as well as other port infrastructure according to an MSC spokesperson.

Yahya Sharaf Abbas, the head of the national ports management on the Red Sea, told the Maritime News Journal: “They destroyed all five cranes and totally disabled the container terminal.”

However, Rima Kamal, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen told CM that the ICRC has been informed by the local port authority that two out of nine piers are damaged while the rest are still capable of being operational.

An MSC notice following the bombing stated that the port would be closed until further notice, with all operations to be seriously impacted for the foreseeable future.

The shipping line added that it could no longer accept any Hodeidah-bound cargo on its vessels, and would instead divert Hodeidah-destined shipments currently at sea to Aden in the south of Yemen.

The coalition-controlled Port of Aden is being advertised as open for business by Yemeni authorities although it “remains commercially quiet with few vessels conducting cargo operations” according to maritime security company, MAST.

At the UN Security-Council meeting, O’Brien said: “I am extremely concerned that the damage to the port of Hodeidah could have a severe impact on the entire country, and would deepen humanitarian needs, making more people food insecure, leaving them without access to water or medicines, which could also mean the spread of disease”.

He continued: “All parties to the conflict must respect and implement international humanitarian law and possible violations must be investigated and perpetrators held accountable.”

Kamal stated that the central and Northern parts of Yemen, where the Houthis receive most of their support, currently depend on the port to receive the vast majority of their supplies.

The targeting of Hodeidah has led to accusations than the Saudi-led coalition is trying to “starve the Houthis into submission”, noted MAST. On the other hand, the coalition has accused the Houthis of commandeering aid shipments for war use.

“We’re not able to confirm if the port was used as a military installation. Nor can we speculate in relation to that,” said Kamal. “But the overall targeting of civilian infrastructure including airports, ports, hospitals, residential places, cultural areas and places of worship is a serious violation, that we are seeing increasingly in Yemen.”

In MAST’s weekly security update, it stated that the bomb attacks on Hodeidah targeted the fuel storage facilities at the port. “For now, we advise that commercial shipping remain clear of Houthi controlled ports,” said Ben Stewart, MAST’s general manager.

This week, Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), warned that the lack of immediate and unhindered access to people who urgently need food assistance and the shortage of funding, is creating the possibility of famine for millions.

Oxfam’s Yemen director, Philippe Clerc, who described the airstrikes on Hodeidah as an “attack on a civilian target”, said: ” Resuming supplies coming through Hodeidah, like other Yemeni ports, is essential. In Yemen, over 21m people need aid; 13m people don’t have enough food to eat. Such attacks need to end immediately.”

A report by human rights non-governmental organisation (NGO), Amnesty International, released prior to the port bombing, said that both sides in the conflict may have committed multiple war crimes.

The organisation noted that apart from causing numerous civilian deaths, all parties had targeted “key logistic infrastructure” with far-reaching consequences.