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The Many Saudi Coalition Massacres at Sea

The New York Timesreports on the Saudi coalition’s massacres of fishermen at sea as part of their blockade of Yemen:

But the Yemen war is also unfolding at sea, with even less accountability than on land. There, too, civilians are dying in droves.

The Afaq was one of at least six Yemeni fishing boats hit by warships, helicopters and a fighter jet after leaving the coalition-controlled port of Khokha in the southern Red Sea over six weeks in August and September.

Saudi coalition attacks on fishermen and refugees at sea have been a regular part of the war on Yemen for the last three and a half years. The shelling and shooting of fishing boats and their crews are part of the coalition’s systematic targeting of Yemeni food production and distribution that Iona Craig and others have reported on for a long time. Because these war crimes take place at sea, it is more difficult to show their aftermath and as a result they are not as well-known as aerial attacks on targets on the mainland. This report is a valuable corrective to that neglect.

There were six attacks in August and September of this year, and they all followed the same pattern:

In interviews, survivors provided harrowing accounts of their ordeal: an attack helicopter that passed overhead six times, spraying them with bullets; fishermen jumping from flaming boats into flaming waters; survivors drifting in the water for days on end, watching helplessly as friends and brothers slipped under the waves.

Of the 86 fishermen on the six boats, 50 died.

There is no real question that the Saudi coalition’s forces are responsible for these attacks. They are the ones enforcing a naval blockade of the country, and they are the only ones that have helicopters to carry out attacks on the fishing boats. Like the slaughter of Somali refugees by a coalition helicopter over a year and a half ago, these attacks could have been carried out only by the Saudis and their allies.

Just as they have been with their numerous other war crimes, Saudi coalition “investigations” of attacks on fishing boats are predictably worthless. The NYT article mentions the attack on the refugees here:

The coalition often refers reports of civilian casualties to the Joint Incidents Assessment Team, a body set up with State Department help in 2016. Human rights groups say that its investigations are a sham, and that it rarely finds fault with the coalition’s actions.

After it examined an airstrike that killed 40 schoolboys in August, Colonel Malki said that the coalition had struck a “legitimate target.” Public records show that the assessment team has twice examined earlier attacks on fishing boats, both times exonerating the coalition.

The assessment team also examined the war’s deadliest attack at sea — a helicopter strike in March 2017 that killed at least 43 people, including women and children, on a boat packed with Somali refugees. Human Rights Watch called it a likely war crime.

The assessment team determined that the coalition had not carried out the attack. United Nations investigators concluded that the Saudis or Emiratis were probably responsible, a former United Nations official said. But the investigators could not establish proof because the coalition refused to answer their questions, he added.

Attacking fishing boats serves the coalition’s attempt to starve Yemenis into submission in two ways: it deprives the people living along the western coast of the means to obtain food for themselves, and it takes away the means to make a living. The coalition deliberately strangles Yemen’s food supply and chokes its economy, and they do this to create conditions for mass starvation.

Alex de Waal writes about the Yemen famine in his book Mass Starvation, published at the start of this year, and he states the main cause for it:

Should a famine rage in Yemen, the culpability for creating it and covering it up will lie primarily with the Saudi-led military coalition and its use of indiscriminate economic warfare. (p.190)

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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