Continued attacks on shipping in the busy Yemeni strait and an impending Saudi-led offensive on a nearby port could worsen the country’s humanitarian situation, activists have warned.
An oil tanker has come under attack from unknown assailants in Bab al-Mandab strait on Wednesday 31 May, the EU naval force reported.
The navy group blamed the attack to the “continuing instability at sea off the coast of Yemen” where Houthi-linked elements have attacked shipping, particularly those heading from enemy Gulf states.
The tanker was carrying Marshall islands flags, and weighted 70,362 tons.
Nearly four million barrels of oil are shipped daily through the Red Sea channel, a key commercial route for commerce with Europe and the Mediterranean basin.
The strait has witnessed numerous clashes between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi rebels, which control the capital Sanaa, the port of al-Hodeideh and much of the north-western Yemeni coast.
In March, a Saudi helicopter attacked a boat’s crew mistaken for Houthi rebels, shooting dead 42 Somali refugees, in what was described as a war crime by human rights groups.
Houthi rebels have attacked a number of Saudi vessels in the strait by using “suicide boats” that explode on collision.
Houthis have also used floating naval mines – which are illegal under international law due to the undiscriminate damage they cause – killing seven fishermen in March.
Hodeideh is under a naval blockade by the Saudi-led coalition. The UAE have been planning an attack to retake the key port, through which much-needed aid flows into Yemen.
Such an attack would further deepen the humanitarian crisis in the country, already ridden by a cholera epidemic which has killed 500 people since March.
Yemen is facing “total collapse”, UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator Stephen O’Brien warned the Security Council on Tuesday with famine and death threatening many thousands more.