Saudi Arabia announced yesterday that it was suspending its air campaign in Yemen because it had “achieved its military goals”, the government said.
The 10-nation Saudi-led coalition began its ‘Decisive Storm’ aerial bombardment against Houthi rebels on 26 March, provoking a major humanitarian disaster, according to aid agencies.
Saudi Arabia now says it will concentrate on finding a political solution and claims the rebels no longer pose a threat to civilians.
However, fighting between Houthis and southern militias, which support the government of President Hadi, continues in the strategic port city of Aden.
Other signs that the conflict is far from over are reports of a group of ships from Iran – which Saudi Arabia accuses of supplying the Houthis with weapons and logistic support – heading for Yemen. The US Department of Defense denied that the Iranian convoy influenced its decision to move warships USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Normandy to the Gulf of Aden.
On Friday, Norwegian P&I club Skuld warned: “Before proceeding to Yemen, or even going close to its territorial waters, an urgent risk assessment has to be undertaken.” This followed an announcement by the Saudi-based ‘official government of Yemen’ that vessels are banned from entering Yemeni waters. However, vessels carrying essential food supplies may be allowed to dock after receiving permission from the Yemeni and Saudi authorities. Ships are likely to be inspected and may be delayed for several days.
French oil and gas company Total declared force majeure last week and closed its 6.7mtpa Balhaf LNG plant. The company said production had been suspended and staff evacuated “due to further degradation of the security situation in the vicinity of Balhaf”.
Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is reported to have expanded its territory and now controls the port of Riyan and the Dhabah oil terminal as well as Al Mukalla port, which it seized some weeks ago.
Concerns are growing, particularly in the USA, that AQAP is consolidating its hold on the southern coast of Yemen and may seek to use the ports as means of raising revenue. In nearby Somalia, al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab generated a large proportion of its income from ports such as Kismaayo and Baraawe until African Union forces ousted the Islamist militants.