This Wednesday the Saudi Arabian cargo ship Bahri Yanbu is due at Tilbury docks.
CAAT is concerned that this ship is carrying weapons destined for use by Saudi-led forces in the war on Yemen, where there is a serious risk they will be used in violations of international humanitarian law. We are also concerned that it may be collecting further UK-made military equipment while it is at Tilbury.
The war in Yemen
Launched in March 2015, the Saudi-led attacks on Yemen have created what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, and thousands of people have been killed in the bombing, which has targeted schools, hospitals, food supplies, weddings and funerals.
UK-made combat aircraft, bombs and missiles have played a central role in these attacks – and the UK government continued to license arms sales to the conflict, despite overwhelming evidence of repeated breaches of international humanitarian law.
CAAT successfully challenged these arms sales in the courts, arguing they were in violation of UK’s own guidelines on arms sales, and European and international law: last year the Court of Appeal ruled that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful.
Bahri, carrying arms for the war in Yemen
Cargo company Bahri is the “exclusive logistics provider” for the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defence – its five year contract with the Saudi Arabian MOD was renewed for a further year in October 2019.
The Bahri shipping schedule includes stops in the USA and Canada, before visiting European ports, then travelling through the Mediterranean to Red Sea and Gulf ports. It began including Tilbury among its stops in March 2016 (on previous voyages, cargo from Tilbury had been carried to Antwerp for loading there).
On its current voyage, the ship has already visited ports in the USA, then Canada (where it is believed to have loaded weapons), before travelling onto Bremerhaven in Northern Germany. It cancelled a scheduled stop in Antwerp after action by Belgian NGOs.
The Bahri fleet is known to have carried weapons on previous voyages. For example:
- United States of America: Customs data and information from Port authorities shows that it has transported billions of dollars worth of military vehicles, missiles and bombs. PRI reports that US weapons for export to Saudi Arabia passed through five of the ports visited by the Bahri fleet, and a “North Carolina port official confirms that all of the military cargo was loaded onto Bahri ships.”
- Canada: Canadian armoured vehicles for export to Saudi Arabia have been transported via Bahri ships stopping at Saint John – this was resisted by campaigners, and dockworkers who refused to cross the picket line.
- France: shipments of Caesar cannons were disrupted by action from dockworkers and legal challenges
- Belgium: A Bahri vessel docked in Tilbury in May 2019 was reported to have been loaded with six containers of Belgian arms. On at least 8 out of 9 visits to Antwerp, the ship is known to have either loaded weapons or to already have weapons on board.
- Italy: Italian unions refused to load generators onto Bahri Yanbu in May 2019
- Spain: Bahri made regular visits to load weapons in Bilboa, resistance from Spanish workers and campaigners forced it to divert to Santander instead
CAAT is therefore seriously concerned that this ship will be carrying weapons destined for use by Saudi-led forces in the war on Yemen.
We are also concerned that may be collecting further UK-made military equipment at Tilbury. Despite CAAT’s successful legal challenge, which saw the Court of Appeal rule that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are unlawful, weapons exports may continue under licences issued before the judgment. These could include components for combat aircraft and bombs used in the conflict.
Lawyers from Leigh Day, representing Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), have written to the Government Legal Department seeking clarification as to the licence under which a Saudi vessel will be allowed to enter and subsequently leave the UK following its expected arrival, and whether any such licence is consistent with the Court of Appeal ruling in June 2019.