Saudi ship facing arms protests leaves Spanish port

Saudi ship facing arms protests leaves Spanish port
3 min read
13 May, 2019
A rights group attempted to block the shipment of French weapons to Saudi Arabia on the grounds that the weapons could be used against civilians in Yemen.
Saudi cargo ship Bahri Yanbu is en route to Italy from Spain [AFP/Getty]
A Saudi ship suspected of carrying weapons for possible use in Yemen has left the port of Santander and is on its way to Genoa, Italy, according to Spanish arms control activists.

Alberto Estevez of the Control Arms Coalition of human rights and aid groups, which is trying to stop arms reaching conflict zones, told The Associated Press that the Saudi 'Bahri Yanbu' cargo ship left the northern Spanish port on Monday after loading two containers.

The ship was due to pick up weapons when it arrived in France last Friday but apparently left without doing so amid protests and legal challenges.

The Saudi ship arrived at the Spanish port of Santander early on Monday without the French arms cargo, Reuters reported, after French rights group ACAT launched a legal challenge on Thursday in a bid to prevent the French weapons from being shipped.

The group alleges that the guided missiles and tanks were being used against civilians in Yemen and therefore breaches a UN treaty.

The case was dismissed by a French judge, according to Reuters, but the Saudi vessel Bahri-Yanbu set off for Spain from Le Havre in northern France shortly after the ruling without the weapons in question.

Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said on Wednesday that the Saudi ship is due to receive the arms this week, which were ordered several years ago.

But France has signed up to the Arms Trade Treaty, which prohibits the sale of weapons to conflicts were war crimes are taking place.

President Emmanuel Macron has previously insisted that French weapons are only being used by Saudi Arabia for defensive purposes and within the kingdom's borders.

"Most of the weapons that have been sold are used inside (Saudi) territory or at the border, but they are used in the conflict," he said, according to Reuters.

Belgian leaders are meanwhile mulling the suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, national news said on Saturday, after it was reported they had been used in Yemen.

The issue of Saudi arms sales divides European governments, with French President Macron defending such sales as part of "the fight against terrorism".

Germany however suspended arms sales to Riyadh after the killing last year of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, posing a problem for European partners as this could affect joint weapon production.

The Yemen war has cost tens of thousands of lives since it broke out in 2014 and escalated with the Saudi-led coalition intervention in 2015.

The war has led to what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.3 million people still displaced and 24.1 million - more than two-thirds of the population - in need of aid.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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