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Saudi Arabian arms ship due to dock in Tilbury next week

The Bahri Yanbu cargo ship has previously transported millions of pounds of weapons to Saudi Arabia © Pasaje Seguro

Saudi state-owned Bahri Yanbu cargo vessel has track record of carrying millions of pounds of weapons to Saudi Arabia 

Dockworkers’ strike in Italy among planned protests 

‘Activists and port workers are on high alert’ - Patrick Wilcken

Protests and lawsuits are planned in several European countries this week over fears that a Saudi Arabian state-owned cargo ship - Bahri Yanbu - is due to dock in European ports with a consignment of arms destined to be used in the conflict in Yemen. 

The Bahri Yanbu, which is due to reach Tilbury Docks on 7 February, has previously ferried tens of millions of pounds’ worth of arms to fuel the war in Yemen.

Having already travelled across the Atlantic - with earlier stops in the USA and Canada last month - the cargo ship is due to visit five ports beginning on 2 February, before continuing its onward voyage to Saudi Arabia. The ports are Bremerhaven (Germany); Antwerp (Belgium); Tilbury Docks (UK); Cherbourg (France); and Genoa (Italy).

A data visualisation of the Bahri Yanbu’s route is available here

Given the secrecy surrounding the Bahri Yanbu’s load, Amnesty lacks specific evidence showing the vessel is currently carrying arms bound for Saudi Arabia. However, the same ship has transported weapons to Saudi Arabia in the past. According to bills of lading data analysed by Amnesty, since the war in Yemen began nearly five years ago the ship has previously transferred some £275 million of military and dual-use equipment on ten voyages from the USA to Saudi Arabia.

Recently-available data shows that on its previous voyage to European ports last May, the Bahri Yanbu was carrying £35 million worth of US-manufactured military components and equipment, much of it linked to military aircraft. Containers of arms were also loaded in Belgium and Spain, and howitzer cannon were due to be loaded in France until NGOs took legal action to prevent this. Amnesty also received credible reports that the ship had Canadian light-armoured vehicles on board.

Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Arms Control and Human Rights Researcher, said: 

“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. 

“Even so, tens of millions of pounds’ worth of military aircraft parts and other arms slipped through. 

“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 fuelling unlawful killing of civilians and a dire humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen.”

Dockworkers’ strike in Italy

The new round of opposition to the Bahri Yanbu’s current voyage includes: 

Italy: a dockworkers’ strike is planned in Genoa, where trade unions have repeatedly voiced their opposition to loading “hot cargo” destined for use in the war in Yemen. Amnesty International Italy volunteers also plan to protest in the port.

Belgium: three NGOs have filed a court case seeking an injunction against the Government authorising arms transfers to Saudi Arabia. 

France: Amnesty International France volunteers plan to protest in Cherbourg port.

In December, Amnesty International Spain and partner NGOs in the national Control Arms campaign protested against the arrival of Bahri Yanbu’s sister ship, the Bahri Abha, in Sagunto, near Valencia. The Spanish government told Amnesty Spain that the ship loaded containers destined for the UAE and Egypt - but would not disclose their contents. 

Thousands of civilians killed in Yemen

The Saudi Arabian and Emirati-led Coalition’s air and ground war in Yemen has killed and injured thousands of civilians in attacks which have violated international humanitarian law - some probable war crimes. The conflict has also seen a range of other serious crimes under international law, including enforced disappearance and torture at a network of black sites.

Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK are all parties to the global Arms Trade Treaty. Although the USA is a signatory, the Trump Administration has said it does not intend to follow the treaty’s obligations. The treaty prohibits international arms transfers that would be used to commit war crimes, such as attacks directed against civilians. The EU Common Position on Arms Exports also prohibits EU member states from allowing arms transfers in such situations.

Last June, a judgment from the Court of Appeal found that the UK Government’s decision to continue licensing exports of military equipment to Saudi Arabia was unlawful.


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