The Saudi owned cargo ship Bahri Yanbu, which is due to visit five European ports beginning on 2 February before continuing its onward voyage to Saudi Arabia, has previously ferried tens of millions of pounds’ worth of arms to fuel the Yemen war.
Having already traveled across the Atlantic — with earlier stops in the United States and Canada last month— Bahri Yanbu is due to dock in the ports of Bremerhaven in Germany, Antwerp in Belgium, Tilbury Docks in the UK, Cherbourg in France, and Genoa in Italy.
“On a similar voyage in May 2019, protests and lawsuits blocked some of the arms destined for Yemen from being loaded on the Bahri Yanbu,” Amnesty’s Researcher on Arms Control, Security Trade, and Human Rights Patrick Wilcken said on Saturday.
“Even so, tens of millions of dollars’ worth of military aircraft parts and other arms slipped through. Multiple states failed miserably to live up to their international obligations to halt arms transfers for use in war crimes and serious human rights violations.”
“Now, the political will of governments to respect their legal obligations is again being put to the test. Activists and port workers are on high alert as the Bahri Yanbu threatens to flout international law yet again in the name of lucrative arms deals that have been fueling unlawful killing of civilians and a dire humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen,” he added.
Back on May 20, Italian unions refused to load electricity generators onto the Bahri Yanbu vessel, saying the weapons on the Saudi ship contravened a United Nations treaty and might be used against civilians in Yemen.
Italian unions refuse to load Saudi ship in protest over Yemen warThe unions refused to load electricity generators onto a Saudi Arabian ship with weapons consignments on board.
Earlier that same month, the Bahri Yanbu vessel loaded arms in the Belgian city of Antwerp but was prevented from picking up another consignment of weapons in the French port of Le Havre following protests by humanitarian groups.
The move was prompted after the investigative website Disclose published leaked documents that showed Saudi Arabia was using French weapons including tanks and laser-guided missile systems, against civilians in Yemen.
The new round of opposition to the Bahri Yanbu’s current voyage includes a dockworkers’ strike in the Italian port city of Genoa, where trade unions have repeatedly voiced their opposition to loading “hot cargo” destined for use in the war. Amnesty International Italy volunteers have also planned to protest in the port.
In Belgium, three NGOs have filed a court case seeking an injunction against the government authorizing arms transfers to Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty International France volunteers have also planned to protest in Cherbourg port.
In December, Spanish peace groups staged a protest in eastern port of Sagunto, Valencia, against the presence of the Bahri Yanbu’s sister ship, the Bahri Abha, which they suspected was carrying weapons from the United States to be used in Yemen.
They demanded the Spanish government prohibit the transit and loading in Spain of any weapons.
Port authorities said that the ship had carried out fully legal cargo operations but could not say what the ship was carrying or where it was headed.
The rights group said it was not clear if the ship was carrying arms in this voyage.
Given the secrecy surrounding the Bahri Yanbu’s contents, Amnesty International lacks specific evidence indicating that it is currently carrying arms to Saudi Arabia.
However, the circumstances of the current voyage, and the ship’s deplorable record, raise a real risk that this is the case, and that states are again failing to live up to their legal obligations to stop illegal weapons transfers.
According to bills of lading data analyzed by Amnesty International, since Saudi Arabia launched its war against Yemen in 2015, the Bahri Yanbu has transferred close to US$360 million worth of military and dual-use equipment on 10 voyages from the United States to Saudi Arabia before the current trip.
Data now available shows that the Bahri Yanbu vessel was carrying US$47 million worth of US-manufactured military components and equipment, much of it linked to military aircraft, on its previous voyage visiting multiple European ports in May 2019.
Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK are all states parties to the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty which sets global standards for regulating transfers of conventional arms.
Around 100 countries have officially signed the treaty so far, and another 29, including the US, have signed it, but not yet formally joined.
Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
Ever since its onset, the Saudi-led war has killed tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians and plunged the country deep into what the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.