Yemen Peace Talks Threatened by Renewed Unrest at Port of Hodeidah

Aid shipment at Port of Hodeidah (file image courtesy UN OCHA)

Published Oct 8, 2020 6:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

The fragile ceasefire negotiations between Yemeni government and Houthi rebel forces are threatened by a new round of skirmishes in the port city of Hodeidah, the UN has warned. 

According to Al Jazeera, dozens of people - including civilians - have been killed in clashes near the port over the past week. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths warned Thursday that the violence is harmful to ongoing talks between the two warring sides.

"This military escalation not only constitutes a violation of the Hudaydah ceasefire agreement but it runs against the spirit of the ongoing UN-facilitated negotiations that aim to achieve a nationwide ceasefire, humanitarian and economic measures and the resumption of the political process," said  Griffiths in a statement. "I have been engaging with all sides. I call on them to immediately stop the fighting [and] respect the commitments they made under the Stockholm agreement."

The fighting has significance for the port of Hodeidah, which is the primary receiving point for Yemeni food imports - including the humanitarian aid shipments that support the majority of Yemen's population. Millions of Yemeni citizens face food scarcity as a result of the long-running conflict, which has devastated the nation's economy. 

In addition to risks for the port and the food supply chain, the renewed fighting poses a potential threat to a moored (and badly deteriorated) floating storage and offloading unit located near Hodeidah. A small oil spill was recently detected near the FSO Safer, which is laden with 1.1 million barrels of crude and has recently experienced leaking in her engine room. UN experts have warned for more than a year that the aging single-hulled vessel could spill a massive quantity of oil into the sensitive waters of the Red Sea. Houthi forces control access to the Safer, and they have refused to allow UN inspectors to board the ship for years. 

The recent unrest also extends beyond Hodeidah. Yemen's Saudi-backed government reports that clashes with Houthi forces have broken out in many other locations over the course of last month, including Sanaa, Marib, Jouf, Dhale and Al-Bayda.

The war between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government has been ongoing since 2014, though a ceasefire signed in late 2018 has reduced its intensity. Iran's government is widely believed to be supporting the Houthi side with armament, including the supplies for building "bomb boats" to attack Saudi shipping. The governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE provide the Yemeni government with air, naval and ground support.