For the second time in a year, protests have broken out across Europe against the Saudi cargo ship Bahri Yanbu. The ship is making its way across the continent, allegedly carrying weapons to be used in the civil war in Yemen.
On February 6, progressive groups in France staged a protest against the docking of the Bahri Yanbu in the port of Cherbourg. Activists of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), French Communist Party (PCF), Solidaires, Amnesty, ACAT and Peace Movement took part in the protest. The ship left on February 7 after loading an unknown consignment.
The various groups, in a joint statement, condemned the sale of weapons by France to Saudi Arabia and the UAE which use them against the civilian population of Yemen.
Earlier, the ship was not allowed to dock at the Belgian port of Antwerp after anti-war groups installed civilian check posts in the port from February 1 to stop the Bahri Yanbu from loading weapons. The protests were organized by the volunteers of the peace movement, Vredesactie.
Vredesactie said, “Over the past few years, the boat has already picked over 50 tonnes of ammunition and explosives destined for the Saudi coalition in Yemen.” Subsequently, the boat proceeded to the UK where activist groups conducted a campaign against it. The ship was at the Sheerness docks in Kent for a short while before sailing to Cherbourg.
The company which owns the ship reportedly admitted to Belgian media that it was carrying weapons. The ship is on its way to Bilbao in Spain before it heads to Genoa in Italy where another strike is planned against its docking.
Ahead of the protests in France, in an official letter to the French Government, PCF MP Jean-Paul Lecoq pointed out that last year, the Bahri Yambu had docked at the port of Le Havre to pick up weapons but was forced to leave without doing so following the protests. At that point, French president Emmanuel Macron had admitted that the ship was docked to load French weapons but vowed that those were not for use in Yemen. The return of the same ship after a trans-Atlantic voyage indicates that France is still involved in the arms trade, activists said. Following the protests at Le Havre, port workers at Genoa too staged a fierce protest when the boat arrived there on May 20 2019.
The war in Yemen where a Saudi-backed coalition is fighting the Houthis has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. An estimated 100,000 have died, one million are exposed to extreme starvation and 18 million are under imminent threat of starvation. The war also caused a major cholera epidemic in the country. A UN report last year said that if the violence continued unabated, it would become the world’s poorest country by 2022.
Countries such as the US, UK and France are major arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia with the US being the leading source of weapons. A report by a UN group of experts last year said the US, UK and France may be responsible for war crimes in Yemen. It stated that frequent airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition may have violated the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.
Sales from the US constitute nearly 70% of Saudi Arabia’s purchases. In June 2019, US president Donald Trump vetoed Congressional resolutions that sought to stop a USD 8.1 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The UK has supplied USD 6 billion worth of arms since the beginning of the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen in March 2015. Weapons and military exports to Saudi Arabia account for 43% of the UK’s total arms exports. In June 2019, a UK court ruled that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful.