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Unions and NGOs block Saudi arms ship

Italian dock workers and French human rights groups take anti-war action

Saudi arms ship Bahri Yanbu was deterred from loading weapons in France and Italy in May, after taking on six containers of Belgian arms in Antwerp on 3 May. (The ship also stopped in London’s Tilbury Docks on 7 May, but it is not known what was loaded.)

Yemen is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, with 12 million people on the verge of starvation. Britain sold almost a fifth of Saudi Arabia’s weapons imports between 2013–2018, while France sold four percent of them, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The US sold Saudi Arabia two-thirds of its arms imports in the same period.

In Italy, dock workers in the CGiL union stopped electricity generators being loaded onto the Bahri Yanbu in Genoa on 20 May.

Along with activists from the Potere al Popolo (‘Power to the People) left-wing coalition, and other peace activists, the dockers refused to allow the equipment to be loaded because it might be used by the Saudi military in the Yemen war.

The union leaders said: ‘We will not be complicit in what is happening in Yemen.’

Earlier, the Bahri Yanbu had left French waters on 10 May without loading the weapons it was due to take on at Le Havre. This included eight Caesar howitzers, according to an online French investigative website, Disclose.

French howitzers sold to Saudi Arabia have been used against civilians in the Yemen war, according to leaked military intelligence published by Disclose. At least 7,000 civilians have been killed in the war, with over 4,500 of those deaths attributed to airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, according to the UN.

Two French human rights groups, ACAT (Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture) and ASER (Action Sécurité Ethique Républicaines ) launched separate court actions on 9 May, saying that the Bahri Yanbu arms sales were illegal because the weapons might be used against civilians in Yemen.

Although the cases were thrown out, the arms ship did not try to collect its French weapons. French MPs walked out of parliament on 7 May after a minister claimed there was ‘no proof these weapons are being used against civilian populations’.

Two Disclose journalists, Mathias Destal and Geoffrey Livolsi, and Benoît Collombat of Radio France, were called for questioning by French intelligence (DGSI) in Paris.