'no weapons beyond this point' banner hangs below Port of Tilbury sign

Resisting the Saudi arms ship

Saudi Arabian cargo ship the Bahri Yanbu collected cargo in the USA and Canada, and visited a series of European ports in February, before continuing to Saudi Arabia. It met resistance across Europe from campaigners concerned that the ship is carrying weapons destined for use by Saudi-led forces in the war on Yemen

Solidarity with allies in Italy today, protesting against the arrival of Saudi Arabian cargo ship the Bahri Yanbu.


In early February, CAAT took action alongside campaigners across Europe to protest against the shipment of further weapons to Saudi Arabia. The Bahri Yanbu has collected cargo in the USA and Canada, and is visiting a series of European ports in February, before continuing to Saudi Arabia. We are concerned that the ship is carrying weapons destined for use by Saudi-led forces in the war on Yemen

But the ship has met resistance across Europe. Belgian campaigners were ready with a legal challenge and citizen weapons inspectors – and the ship did not dock in Antwerp. In the UK CAAT supporters took the same message to Tilbury Docks. In France it was met with further legal challenge and protest

In Spain, workers and campaigners were determined to expose weapons shipments.

Now it is facing an alliance of activists and dockworkers in Genoa, Italy, where the workers have said

“We can’t be at peace with ourselves when we are working to load these ships”.

Watch for more on why they are taking action, and read a transcript below.

How long has the autonomous collective of port workers been organising around the issue of warships docking in Genoa?

We have been talking about this for four years now. Basically we were witnessing every day ships being loaded with armoured vehicles, containers with explosives and so on.. in the last year we have seen the Bahri arms company loading much more, lets say, serious cargo, things like armoured cars with mounted Howitzers, armoured personnel carriers, helicopters, and then this cargo that we blocked them from loading in May which was of generators that were supposed to be used to power the drones used to bomb Yemen.

Your colleague just mentioned Howitzers and tanks, but in order to keep things hidden there have also been cases of arms being loaded in pieces, is that right?

In the case that he mentioned with the generators, these can be also be used for civilian purposes so it’s the context that determines whether it’s an instrument of war or not. What started us thinking about the situation in Yemen is that we started seeing lots and lots of pick up trucks being transported to the Middle East: Toyota pick up trucks, dozens and dozens of them. These pick-up trucks are actually being used as means of combat; they are then mounted with heavy-duty weapons, Howitzers etc, they are weapons of war, so its clear that military logistics needs things like this, as well as the other conventional weapons, so when we realised what they were being used for, and then when we started to see things like helicopters, then we made a decision, a decision we took collectively but that is also driven by our conscious, we can’t be at peace with ourselves when we are working to load these ships that are being used to fuel conflicts across the world, so at one point we had to stop, we had to say “enough”, and in so doing we’ve brought the issue into the open, because we’ve brought media attention to the issue and we’ve made many other workers aware of it, it’s not just a battle against the arms trade, its also a workers’ struggle, because the workers should not be kept in the dark about the work they do, they should have control over their work,  we as port workers, as the autonomous collective of port workers, are carrying forward this battle against the arms trade that is also a workers’ struggle, because if the workers can stand up to this then they can also stand up to other things in the work place that shouldn’t happen, so we will take this forward until the end, we don’t know what’s going to happen, because this is a whole world we are confronting, and industry through which perhaps more money flows than any other..

How many warships stop in Genoa?

The Bahri company has six ships. They stop in Genoa roughly every 20 days, these are ships that go on to service war zones such as Saudi Arabia, the Turkey/Syria border and in Kashmir, so we realised that this company, which transits from North America, stopping in Europe and then going on to the Middle East, services so-called “dirty” conflicts, such as Kashmir, a conflict that has lasted over 70 years, and India last dropped bombs on Kashmir in July 2019, and the last ship that went through Genoa, on the 18th January, the Hofuf, on that ship there were some Chinooks, helicopters for carrying troops and on the side was written Indian Air Force.

Can you take photos?

We took some photos, though it wasn’t easy, because while at the beginning these things were done completely in the open, it was seen as something basically normal, since the blockade we carried out last year they’ve started to cover up the boarding ports so that you can’t see what’s inside the ships, but they can’t always keep these ports covered because of the quantity of things they are carrying, so sometimes things are left uncovered and if you go up close and hide behind a door you can take a photo with your cell phone..

But its not only the Bahri ships that come to Genoa, there’s also Erdogan’s “ghost” ship, the Bana, which seems to be at the port of Genoa tonight

The case of the Bana has been reported in national media, even in the French media, it seems it went to Syria, accompanied by Turkish ships..

Yes Macron made a statement in the press

Yes it seems it was taking arms to Syria to the Turkish-backed militias, to this awful war they are fighting in Northern Syria, they were talking about this ship in the news yesterday, yes the ship is here in Genoa, it seems they’ve carried out some checks but haven’t found anything, but its clear that, like I said before, military logistics, the transport of arms, is a huge complex business, it’s not just Genoa, it’s lots of ports all around the world, the Bana comes here and loads cars or other vehicles, trucks etc, 

Like the pick-up trucks that can then be used in combat..

Yes, probably the pick-up trucks as well, often they come here pick up something then move off straight away to another port, once we saw on a video on the news we saw one of these pick-ups with the sticker we put on them here at the port in Genoa to show where they need to be loaded, we saw one of these pick-ups with our sticker on the news clip from a warzone, so its clear that these pick-ups end up in warzones..

So the checks they do here find nothing, but that’s because arms can be loaded without explosives, is that right?

Yes some weapons yes, some weapons can be shipped in pieces and then assembled in other places…

So the fact that there are no explosives doesn’t mean they are illegal?

Explosives have to be transported with the highest security containers, there are strict regulations about that, many weapons can be assembled after transport though, and then before transport they seem innocuous, it’s complicated and I’m not a weapons expert, but I know for sure that things that don’t seem like weapons here can go on to become weapons

What will the port workers’ collective’s next move be?

We are organising a day of mobilisation for the 16th February which is when the Bahri Yanbu is due to arrive here to say no to the trafficking or arms from Genoa, we refuse to be part of the arms supply chain, so we’ve called on different organisations, anti-war organisations and so on, to join us in this action. We want the citizens of Genoa to participate in this struggle to stop the use of their port for these ends. We’re not doing this because we don’t want the work for the city, it’s a question of public security as well as an ethical question, that necessarily involves us all. 

It will be difficult to draw sympathy to this cause in a region that produces arms and in a country that in 2018 exported 2.5 billion euros worth of arms.

That’s very true. Today we wrote a letter to the workers of the agency Delta that works with Bahri, because we realise that there are a lot of people that, consciously or not, works at some level in the arms industry, in Genoa there’s Leonardo, Fincantieri, lots of factories with lots of workers, that are honest and hard-working, but we need to realise all of us what it really means to complicit in this. But if we focus on the port, because more broadly we realise that it’s a very complicated question, but I think the port can make up for this..

Because people are dying while we are making money…

We need to really think about what we are doing, we need to share in the destinies of others, not just of the workers here, but also of the people who suffer from the arms trade, from war. The solutions will be difficult to find, that’s for sure, but we have to pose this problem, as port workers it is our duty to pose this problem, as far as the port is concerned we will do everything we can to stop these ships from being loaded, these ships that are often decisive in conflicts.

We mentioned that there are deaths, what happened after the Bahri Hofuf unloaded in Iskenderun?

What happened there is emblematic of what we were saying before, these ships play a decisive role in these conflicts, it happened in Yemen last year, and it happened again here, just after the ship arrived in Iskenderun just miles from the Syrian border, Turkey began its offensive in Northern Syria, which is still going on, this huge convey waiting along the border, was probably waiting for the Hofuf’s cargo to arrive before starting the offensive, we don’t have concrete proof of this but it seems more than likely that this is what happened given the timings and from videos we’ve seen, people we’ve talked to, these ships bring transport, equipment and arms vital for a war effort, so they are decisive in conflict.

How are your relations with the trade unions, will they stand with you?

In our collective about half of us are also union reps for FILT CGIL, we’ve been meeting with the local branch which is very open to working on this and very concerned about the issue, we are going to try and organise a demonstration for when the boat arrives. We are asking the unions to call a city-wide strike, Genoa has become a symbol of anti-war sentiment, on the basis of the previous actions against the Bahri ship, we want a city-wide strike against war, not against this boat in particular but against war in general. 

Thanks to Bethan Bowett for the translation

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