31 January, 2017– An attack on a Saudi warship west of Hudaydah Port has left two crew members killed and three injured. Al Masira TV, a Houthi-controlled station, has broadcast what appears to be footage of the attack on Yemen’s western coast.
Rebel sources told Al Masira that guided missiles were used in the attack; however, a statement by Saudi authorities says that three “suicide boats” approached the frigate. One of the suicide boats reportedly collided with the rear of frigate, exploding and causing a fire.
The attacks come as coalition forces continue “Operation Golden Spear,” which began on 7 January 2017. Operation Golden Spear will see coalition forces advancing northward along Yemen’s western coast to drive Houthi rebels out of Hudaydah and other Red Sea ports. The coalition has warned that the Houthis may be using Hudaydah as a launch-pad for terrorist operations that could hamper international navigation and the flow of humanitarian and medical necessities into Yemen.
Saba news agency, part of which taken over by the Houthis in January 2015, cited a military source as saying, “The targeting of this warship comes within the framework of the legal right of Yemen to defend the homeland and its sovereignty.”
The attack comes ten days after a statement reportedly made by the Yemeni navy, coastal defense and coastguard, which warned that the forces are prepared to respond to aggression, should Saudi warships in international waters bomb civilian targets in the country. The statement also warned that merchant vessels in international water land require Long Range Tracking and Identification (LRIT) for safe navigation. In October, the Houthis were accused of firing missiles at a US warship and a UAE chartered logistics ship.
In a separate event, al Masira reports on Tuesday morning, Houthi fighters launched a missile at a coalition military base on the island of Zuqar, situated between Yemen and Eritrea on the Red Sea. There is currently no information regarding damages or casualties, nor confirmation from the Saudi-led coalition. South of Hudaydah, fierce fighting is reported to be ongoing at the port city of Mokha.
MS Risk continues to advise extreme caution for vessels traveling through Bab Al Mandab, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. In October, MS Risk warned that the battle in Yemen could change in trajectory, causing greater impact on the maritime navigation through the Bab al Mandab Strait. According to reports, Hudaydah port remains operation, however this is subject to change. The Saudi-led coalition has not yet given any indication of its next steps, however as they continue to push northward along Yemen’s coast, there is a likelihood of potential shore-to-ship, or water-borne attacks, or retaliatory responses. This could result in disruption of shipping routes, or possible damage to vessels.
Ship owners and masters are urged stay abreast of the conflict and to carry out a risk assessment prior to entering Bab al Mandab or Yemeni waters. Seek up-to-the-moment, reliable information from local sources and remain vigilant. Crew members are urged to report unusual or potentially hostile activity to coalition naval forces via the following methods:
VHF: Channel 16
All vessels must adhere to UN and Coalition-led inspections.
United Nations Inspections
The UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) is operational for commercial imports to Yemen.
Shipping companies or owners delivering to ports not under the control of the Government of Yemen must apply for permits upon departing from the port of origin of their cargo. Yemen-based importers/traders are required to submit this notification form. More information about the UNVIM program is available here: https://www.vimye.org/home.
Vessels applying to go to ports under the control of the Government of Yemen need obtain permission for entry from the Yemeni Ministry of Transport. This should be done through the ship’s agent and/or receivers prior to the vessel’s arrival. The form should be completed by the ship’s master and sent directly to the Ministry of Transport.
Saudi Coalition Inspections
All vessels calling at Yemeni ports will only be allowed to enter Yemeni territorial waters following an inspection by the Saudi Arabian coalition forces. Upon arrival outside Bab Al-Mandab, the shipmaster should call the naval forces of the Saudi Arabian coalition by VHF on channel 16 for the arrival registration, and indicate his location (ideally three miles from Bab Al Mandab). Coalition authorities will advise on the anchor position until they provide final approval to enter the port. This procedure will not take more than 48 hours.
Coalition inspectors do not conduct investigation with the crew; contact will be with the ship’s master or Chief Officer about the cargo and documents. Once the vessel is permitted into Yemeni ports, the Master will be required to call port control by VHF on channel 14 or 16 for the arrival registration. The shipmaster will be advised the anchor position until the Harbour master confirms berthing prospects.
Coalition forces require AIS to be kept on at all times. The situation is subject to change and vessels should check frequently with local sources for any changes.
26 April—On Monday, allied Yemeni and Emirati forces retook Ash Shihr terminal, Yemen’s largest oil export terminal from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The move comes a day after forces swept the militant group from their nearby stronghold in the port city of Mukalla, capital of the Hadramawt province.
The air strikes were carried out in coordination with a ground offensive in militant-controlled territory further west. Statements released by coalition officials said that nearly 2,000 Yemeni and Emirati troops advanced into Mukalla, taking control of its maritime port and airport, and setting up checkpoints.
The coalition also stated that 800 al Qaeda members were killed in the battle to retake the city and the oil terminal. Yet contrary to this statement, residents in the region said that the number killed was unlikely, adding that the group withdrew largely without a fight. One military officer said, “We entered the city centre and were met by no resistance from al-Qaeda militants who withdrew west.” Residents say that local clerics and tribesmen had been in talks with the group to exit quietly. It is believed that the fighters withdrew to the neighbouring Shabwa province.
The recapture of this area is a big win for coalition forces. Ash Shihr terminal, closed since its capture by AQAP fighters in 2015, is the export site for nearly 80% of Yemen’s oil reserves. Nearby Mukalla port, however, has remained open, and reports indicate that AQAP was pocketing around $2 million a day in customs revenues.
The advances against the militant group are indicative of a shift within the Saudi-led coalition. For the past year, the coalition has targeted the Houthi rebels, a group which captured the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and caused the government to go into exile, ultimately moving administrative operations to Aden. However, a tenuous ceasefire has been in place between the coalition and the rebel group since 11 April. The coalition has used the truce to target Al Qaeda strongholds in the region. The militant group, considered one of the most active and dangerous branches of Al Qaeda, had taken advantage of the power vacuum to develop a mini-state around Mukalla.
The coalition is now advancing on AQAP-held towns along the 370-mile coastline between Mukalla and Aden. It appears that militants are seeking to mount a stronger resistance in the region. The push against AQAP is being led by the United Arab Emirates, which has been training and arming local recruits for several months.
Yemen’s civil war has killed more than 6,200 people, displaced more than 2.5 million people. It has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world’s poorest countries. UN brokered peace talks between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels are currently underway in Kuwait. Al Qaeda has not been invited to participate.
On 15 December, Saudi Arabia announced that thirty-four mainly Islamic nations have joined a new military alliance aimed at fighting terrorism. News of the alliance comes amidst international pressure for Gulf Arab states to do more in the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS) group.
State media have reported that a joint operations centre is to be established in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. According to Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, the new alliance would co-ordinate efforts against extremists in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Prince Mohammed has further disclosed that the decision to form such an alliance “…comes from the Islamic world’s vigilance in fighting this disease (Islamic extremism) which has damaged the Islamic world.” He further added that “currently, every Muslim country is fighting terrorism individually…so co-ordinating efforts is very important.” While few other details about the coalition have been released, Prince Mohammed has disclosed that the coalition would not just focus on fighting IS.
The SPA state news agency has report that then other “Islamic countries” had expressed support, including Indonesia, with Prince Mohammed stating that “these countries have procedures to go through before joining the coalition, but out of keenness to achieve this coalition as soon as possible, (the alliance of) 34 countries has been announced.” In announcing the coalition, the SPA indicated that Islam forbids “corruption and destruction in the world” and that terrorism represents “ a serious violation of human dignity and rights, especially the right to life and the right to security.”
The list of 34 members is the following: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Palestinians, Qatar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are not part of the coalition. Saudi Arabia is already part of the US-led coalition against IS and is also leading a military intervention in Yemen against Shia Houthi rebels.
Saudi Arabia has announced plans to raze 96 deserted border villages in order to prevent their use by infiltrators from neighbouring Yemen, where the kingdom is leading airstrikes on Shiite Houthi rebels, according to a report released on Sunday. Hassan Aqili, border guard chief in the area, stated in the report that the operation would prevent the empty houses from turning into “a safe haven for traffickers and infiltrators.” The Kingdom has already demolished ten villages since the Saudi-led coalition began conducting airstrikes on Houthi rebel targets on 26 March. Three Saudi border guards have been killed by gunfire from within Yemen since Riyadh launched air raids against the Houthis.
Despite the intensity of fighting, the ground situation in Yemen has only changed slightly, with the most change occurring in the contested Aden region. Over the weekend, southern tribal alliances have appeared to become more organised and effective at combatting the Houthi militia. On 5 April, the tribal militias claimed they recaptured the town of Lawdar from the Houthis, and will use the town to as a base to assist anti-Houthi forces in Aden. However, because the Houthis withdrew from the region, there is no effective gauge to measure the effectiveness of the tribal militias.
Amid the fighting, a humanitarian crisis is developing as infrastructure and utilities have been destroyed. Fighting on the ground and coalition-led airstrikes have prevented the delivery of essentials, including water, to civilian populations. Russia, China, and the International Committee of the Red Cross have called for a 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire in order to deliver much needed aid. The Red Cross planning to send two planes carrying medical help and other aid to Yemen over the next 48 hours. The humanitarian organisation is still seeking clearance to bring a team of surgeons from the ICRC and the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres to Aden from Djibouti by boat.
Meanwhile, on 6 April, Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif told a joint session of parliament that during his visit to Saudi Arabia last week, the Kingdom formally requested Pakistani military assistance for the Yemen campaign, including combat planes, warships and soldiers. The two nations have a shared a strong relationship for decades, however there have been no public statements by Pakistani leasers to show support or intentions of sending troops. Pakistan is likely wary of straining its ties with Iran. The Pakistan parliament is deliberating the degree of assistance they will provide.
The United States has closed its embassy in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh and suspended all consular operations and services for two days due to security concerns.
A statement from the embassy said that consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dharan would not be available on Sunday and Monday due to “heightened security concerns.” The embassy told US citizens to “be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country.”
The embassy statement coincides with a security message issued on 13 March which warned that “individuals associated with a terrorist organisation could be targeting Western oil workers… for an attack(s) and/or kidnapping(s).” The message did not indicate a specific militant group. The security message called for US citizens to avoid large crowds, identify safe areas before walking in public, carry a phone at all times and to report any concerns to the Embassy. Two days later, the embassy announced that Consular sections’ telephone lines will not be open during the two days. The State Department in Washington said it had no further comment.
Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Middle East risk adviser Cornerstone Global Associates in Dubai, states that consular services are closed in response to specific intelligence information, rather than a general increase of risk. It is likely that the US consulate was reacting to a defined and credible threat.
Earlier last week on 9 March, the US embassy in Riyadh announced that they had become aware of a possible plot to attack employees working with oil giant Chevron in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier. The embassy said they had received information which indicated that, “as of early March, individuals associated with a terrorist organisation are targeting employees of Chevron in Saudi Arabia.” The message was emailed to American citizens over the weekend, and added “There is no further information on the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”
An email statement from Chevron said they are monitoring the situation, reassuring employees that their security is “paramount.” The oil company did not elaborate on the nature of the threat, stating, “It is not Chevron’s policy to discuss details related to the security of our employees or facilities.”
Saudi Arabia is in the geographic and political centre of international affairs that have that have caused the nation to become acutely vigilant regarding domestic security. In Yemen, the weakness of the government, which has been de-facto overthrown by Shiite Houthi rebels, has caused concerns in the Kingdom that Yemen will now become a proxy war for Iran. Diplomatic concerns have been raised between the US and Saudi Arabia due to talks between the US and Iran over an extension of Iran’s nuclear programme. The kingdom is concerned that the P5+1 nuclear negotiations could lead to greater aggression from Iran. In a meeting earlier in March, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Riyadh to reassure King Salman and foreign minister Saud al-Faisal that a nuclear accord would not cause the US to let down its guard against any Iranian interference in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has been attempting to build a Sunni bloc to contain Iran and its influence abroad. The alliance has so far been met with a setback from Pakistan. Islamabad has opted, at least for now, to avoid becoming entangled in the sectarian cold war between Riyadh and Tehran.
Foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia have been targeted in a series of attacks since the kingdom joined the anti ISIS coalition last year. The last security incident to take place in Saudi Arabia involving US citizens was last October when a US citizen working for an American defence contractor was killed in Riyadh. A month later, a Danish citizen shot and injured.