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War in Yemen and risks to shipping

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Despite the removal of the Indian Ocean high-risk piracy area at the beginning of 2023, security in the area is at risk from other threats. Notably, the civil war in Yemen is a primary driver of instability in the region, with multiple security events in 2022 being linked to the conflict.

The conflict in Yemen is linked to the Arab Spring, which spread through the Middle East in 2011. President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted from power by protesters and his vice president, Abd-Rabbu Mansoor Hadi was put into office. This only lasted until 2014, when the Shia Houthi minority allied with their former president to try and take back power. This action resulted in Hadi fleeing to Saudi Arabia in September 2014 after the capital Sana’a fell to the Houthi rebels. The conflict became increasingly violent with the entrance of the Saudi-led coalition into the fighting. Saudi Arabia fears that the Iranian backing of the Houthi rebels will lead to a dangerous security threat on their border. They entered the conflict through an air campaign and the support of the internationally recognised government with other Arab states such as the UAE and Bahrain. Western countries such as the US, UK, Germany and Canada have backed the coalition with arms sales and intelligence, which has received condemnation.


Currently, the conflict has been going on for nearly nine years, with a six-month ceasefire improving conditions in 2022. However, a renewal failed and fighting continues presently. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS are also involved in the conflict with a new faction, the Southern Transitional Council, being engaged in powersharing in the internationally recognised coalition and controlling territory in the south.

The conflict has had a marked effect on maritime security in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean area despite the reduction of piracy resulting in the removal of the Indian Ocean high-risk area. The coalition has accused the Houthis of being involved in piracy. One attack in May of 2022 on the S.V. Lakota sailing vessel was hypothesised to have been carried out by opportunistic rebels. However, it is unknown if such actions are sanctioned by their leadership. Furthermore, missile attacks have taken place in ports and oil terminals. The Al-Dhabba oil terminal was attacked with missiles in November 2023, resulting in international condemnation. Ships have also been held illegally over concerns of arms smuggling.

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In 2023, 23 fishermen were returned to the Houthi-controlled Hodeida province in Yemen after being captured by the Saudi coalition. The Houthis stated this was an act of state piracy. Previously, further protests and complaints had been levelled at the coalition for stealing marine resources, including oil. For example, current estimates are that the conflict and the blockade of Yemen have created losses of $12bn for the Yemeni fishing industry, further impacting the devastation the conflict has created.

Overall, as long as the war in Yemen continues, maritime security in the region will be at risk, which impacts not only people sailing through nearby waters but the people of Yemen themselves. As the EU operations ATALANTA and AGENOR are still in operation in addition to Combined Task Forces 150 and 151, the hope is that the situation will remain stable concerning the presence of security forces in the wider region.

Source: Splash 247