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Attempted tanker diversion in the Gulf of Aden

MariTrace, 8 September 2023

Earlier this week, an LPG tanker in the vicinity of the Port of Aden was contacted over VHF radio by a caller claiming to represent the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM). According to reports, the tanker was directed by the caller to divert from Aden, on Yemen's south coast, to Hodeidah, in the Red Sea. Aden's Harbour Master had also received communication from a third party, claiming responsibility for mis-representing UNVIM.

Current restrictions within Yemen's territorial waters require that vessels calling at Aden, Mukalla, Ash Shihr, Rudhum terminal and Nishtun ports are required to apply for clearance at the IMCTC coalition HQ in Riyadh, prior to their arrival in port, while vessels calling at Hodeidah and Saleef port, and Ras Isa Petroleum Products Reception Facility, must apply for clearance at UNVIM in Djibouti. UNVIM issued 119 clearances in the first four months of 2023, of which 41 were for vessels carrying fuel. Inspection costs are borne by the vessel’s shipping company. For UNVIM clearance, “vessels are required to keep their Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched-on at all times. An AIS switched-off for more than four (04) hours may result in automatic cancellation of the clearance.” On satisfactory clearance, vessels are directed to Hodeidah or Saleef.

Cargo vessels (blue) and tankers (red) in the vicinity of Saleef and Hodeidah, 8 September 2023. Source: MariTrace.

For commercial vessels arriving in Yemen's ports, delays of up to six weeks were common during 2016, particularly at the Port of Hodeidah. UNVIM was operationalised in May 2016 to facilitate the flow of commercial cargo into Yemen and was initially high controversial. Control and influence over territory and critical infrastructure remains fractured. This week's incident may mark a change in tactics by rival actors to control the flow of fuel into Yemen. Even prior to the current conflict, Yemen relied very heavily on imports for food and fuel and the majority (75%, roughly 25 million) of Yemen’s population need ongoing, urgent assistance.

In March 2021 Houthi-led attacks in Saudi Arabia included the targeting of oil tankers. Fuel ships were cleared to dock at Hodeidah but long delays remained. Restrictions on imports into Yemen’s southern ports were lifted in April of this year. At the present time, Balhaf LNG Terminal and Ras Isa Marine Terminal are closed. All other ports in Yemen are operational.

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