Assisting Famine (III)

BERLIN/RIYADH (Own report) - Despite Saudi Arabia's sea blockade, starving Yemen, Germany continues upgrading the Saudi Coast Guard's weaponry. At the beginning of November, a cargo vessel carrying two patrol boats for Saudi Arabia left the Baltic Sea headed for the Red Sea. The Saudi Coast Guard is also operating in Yemeni waters, where Riyadh has been blocking the entry of food, fuel and medicine into Yemen since 2015. Saudi Arabia is also blocking container ships with humanitarian aid supplies, which had been inspected for possible arms smuggling and given United Nations clearance. Even vessels transporting medicine under UN control were delayed for months permitting a significant portion to expire. The number of suspected cholera infections is climbing toward a million. The famine caused by Riyadh - also possibly using German patrol boats - could cost "millions" of lives, the United Nations estimates.

Riyadh's War

Since some long time, Saudi Arabia's blockade of Yemen has come under heavy criticism worldwide. Since March 2015, the Riyadh led military coalition[1] has been waging war in Yemen against the insurgent Teheran-sponsored Houthi militia. Riyadh is justifying its blockade as a prevention of Iranian arms supplies for the Houthi militias. Saudi naval vessels have been patrolling Yemeni waters since 2015 - with the open endorsement of western powers. Some western countries actively support the Saudi-led war by helping coordinate air strikes or supplying arms.[2] At all costs, they are jointly trying to prevent Iran from gaining a stronger foothold in case the Houthis succeed in taking complete control of Yemen. In its war against the Houthi, the Saudi Air Force has bombed numerous schools, hospitals and private wedding celebrations. Nearly 60 percent of the 785 children killed in Yemen in 2016, have died in Saudi-led coalition attacks according to the United Nations.[3] The war has also enabled al-Qaeda to take control over parts of the country.[4]

Saudi Obstruction

Criticism of the blockade is not so much raised against Saudi Arabia trying to prevent possible Iranian arms deliveries. In fact the United Nations has already intervened and in May 2016 established a system of controls to prevent arms smuggling, while facilitating the shipment of commercial goods into Yemen. According to journalists and aid organizations this has failed due to Saudi obstruction. They recently reported the case of 13 vessels, which had been cleared by the United Nations and verifiably were carrying no arms. However, they were turned away by the Saudis or seriously delayed, before they could reach Yemeni ports. Seven had been desperately awaited because they were not only transporting food but also essential medicine. One of them was carrying antibiotics, surgical equipment and medication for cholera and malaria for 300,000 people. The shipment was held up for three months, during which an important portion of the medicine was damaged or expired. Between January and August 2017, only 21 vessels reached Hodeida, the country's most important container port, whereas 54 had reached that port during the same period in 2016 and even 129 in 2014.[5] Shipments to Hodeida have also been impeded since a Saudi-led air strike destroyed the port's industrial cranes and Riyadh turned away ships carrying new cranes financed by the UN.

Millions of Victims

The situation is a catastrophe after the more than two years blockade. As Riyadh began to completely shut down Yemen last week, refusing to allow any supplies to enter the country, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Mark Lowcock, warned against further escalation saying "the largest famine the world has seen for many decades with millions of victims."[6] According to relief organizations 20 million - of a population of 27 million - is desperately dependent on humanitarian aid, and 7 million are completely dependent on food aid. More than two million children suffer malnutrition. Last week it was reported that Yemen's food stocks suffice for only more six weeks. That time frame has now shrunk to five weeks. Photos out of Yemen depict emaciated people, seemingly close to a starvation death. The cholera epidemic is also growing worse. Nearly 900,000 Yemenis are currently infected; nearly 2,200 have already died from the disease. Saudi Arabia has now announced its intentions to somewhat loosen the total blockade, however, conditional on fulfillment of quasi impossible demands. Time is pressing in light of the escalation of this humanitarian catastrophe.

Patrol Boats

In this situation, the German government is active, however, not with measures to have the Saudi blockade lifted, but active granting permits to the Lürssen Group to deliver more patrol boats to the Saudi Coast Guard - whose ships are also in operation in Yemeni waters. Houthi rebels have destroyed one of them off the coast of Yemen's city of Mocha. In early November, shipping experts observed a Leer-based Briese shipyard multi-purpose cargo vessel coming from Wolgast transporting two patrol boats at its stopover to fill up with diesel in Kiel, before continuing its cruise toward the Suez Canal. The 35 meter long, two MTU engine "Afif" and "Buqayq" patrol boats - which can reach up to 40 knots - were being delivered to the Saudi Coast Guard.[7] Shortly before the transport set sail, the Federal Security Council had approved the permits in due form, as so many times before. One patrol boat had been delivered in November 2016. Another two were delivered both in April and July 2017. These vessels are part of a €1.5 billion comprehensive package deal covering 100 ships - also for the Saudi Navy.[8]

Highly Aggressive

This year as well, Saudi Arabia will remain one of Germany's most important weapons customers, in spite of its war on and sea blockade of Yemen. As was announced yesterday, the Federal Security Council has already approved the delivery of around €148 million worth of weaponry to that country for the third quarter of 2017. Last year, Saudi Arabia purchased nearly €530 million in arms - ranking third among Germany's arms export customers - after Algeria and the United Arab Emirates. The savage hunger blockade imposed on Yemen is further aggravated by the fact that Berlin's close partner, Saudi Arabia is currently following a highly aggressive policy that threatens to enflame the entire Middle East. ( will soon report.)


See also Assisting Famine and Assisting Famine (II).


[1] The war coalition includes, alongside Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan.

[2] See Ein Spitzenkäufer deutschen Kriegsgeräts.

[3] Yemen: Coalition's Blocking Aid, Fuel Endangers Civilians. 27.09.2017.

[4] See Die Hauptprofiteure des Jemen-Kriegs.

[5] Selam Gebrekidan, Jonathan Saul: Special Report - In blocking arms to Yemen, Saudi Arabia squeezes a starving population. 11.10.2017.

[6] UN: Jemen droht größte Hungersnot seit Jahrzehnten. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 10.11.2017.

[7] Frank Behling: Saudische Patrouillenboote in Kiel. 01.11.2017. André Germann: Lürssen liefert weitere Saudi-Boote ab. 02.11.2017.

[8] Wochenschau: Saudi-Arabien. 21.07.2017.