The Yemeni Houthis have captured 19 oil tankers and are keeping them from entering the Hodeidah port, according to reports from Saudi media quoting the Kingdom’s ambassador in Yemen.
The ambassador suggested three possible reasons for the detention, including an attempt to extract money from the owners of the vessels, “the continued starvation of the Yemeni people”, and a plan to destroy the tankers, causing major environmental damage to the Red Sea.
However, the only media sources reporting the tanker seizure are Saudi sources and there has been no confirmation from an external source that the Houthis have indeed seized any tankers yet. No details have been disclosed as to the origin of the vessels, either.
According to Saudi Arabia, the Houthis—a Shiite militia backed by Iran—are holding the port of Hodeidah as “a tool of war”. The port is one of the largest in the war-torn country, and it is the destination for many oil tankers and humanitarian aid. It is also controlled by the Houthis unlike other large ports, which the Saudi-led coalition closed earlier, worsening the plight of starving Yemenis.
At the end of last year, the Houthis threatened that they would start attacking oil tankers and warships sailing under enemy flags if the Gulf coalition fighting it in the country does not reopen its ports. Since then, there have been multiple reports of Houthis strikes against Saudi targets, including civilian targets, but no real damage has been done.
Even so, following the latest missile strike report, Human Rights Watch said that “Houthi forces in Yemen violated the laws of war by launching ballistic missiles indiscriminately at populated areas in Saudi Arabia on March 25, 2018.”
“But just as unlawful coalition airstrikes don’t justify the Houthi’s indiscriminate attacks, the Saudis can’t use Houthi rockets to justify impeding life-saving goods for Yemen’s civilian population,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said.
Yemen lies along one of the main global oil chokepoints in the Red Sea. Millions of barrels of crude oil pass Yemeni shores from the Suez Canal en route to Europe every day.