A tanker carrying oil docked at Hodeidah port in Yemen on Thursday – the first such ship to berth this year in the country’s Houthi-controlled north, where fuel is desperately needed to distribute food and to keep the country’s hospitals from shuttering.
The arrival of the ship, the Gabon-registered Thuruya, follows a UN announcement on Wednesday that the internationally recognized government of Yemen – supported by Saudi Arabia and its military – had agreed to allow four ships carrying fuel to unload at Hodeidah. It was not clear if the relaxation was temporary or a permanent change.
A CNN investigation earlier this month revealed that Saudi warships were preventing all oil tankers from docking at the port, including 14 vessels that had gained approval from a United Nations clearance mechanism to berth. The investigation triggered calls from the UN Yemen Envoy Martin Griffiths and WFP Chief David Beasley for Saudi Arabia to lift its blockade and allow fuel into the country.
The 14 vessels have been waiting for clearance for months off the Saudi port of Jazan in the Red Sea. Thuruya was supposed to dock at Hodeidah on November 5, a UN clearance certificate shows, and marine tracking apps confirm it had been anchored in the Red Sea waiting for 141 days until Thursday. The other 10 are still waiting for clearance.
The Saudi-led coalition has enforced a sea and air blockade around the north of Yemen for years, where roughly 80% of the population lives. Aid has been allowed to come through Hodeidah – but not the fuel necessary to deliver it.
The port is controlled by the Iran-backed group Anasarullah – also referred to as Houthi rebels – but the Yemeni government, backed by Saudi warships, must give the vessels clearance to dock.
Amar Aladrai, the executive general manager of the Houthi-controlled Yemen National Oil Company, told CNN Thursday Thuruya had docked, while marine tracking apps showed the tanker at the port.
However, he said Yemen needed much more to arrive.
“Our needs are immense and because we received nothing for the first quarter of this year, the 29,000 tons of diesel carried by the Thuraya will only cover 8% of our public sector needs. It will provide partial cover for our healthcare needs but everything else; electricity, sanitation, water etc all of those will still struggle. This is nowhere near enough,” he told CNN.
“A partial release won’t solve this.”
Saudi Arabia has justified the blockade by accusing the Houthis of siphoning taxes from the fuel that comes into Hodeidah to fund its war effort, an allegation also made by the US and UN.
On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat announced a UN-backed proposal to end the conflict in Yemen, including an offer of a ceasefire and the lifting the sea and air blockade on the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Thursday marked six years of war in Yemen, where famine has started to creep into the north and threatens to rip through the nation if humanitarian agencies are unable to deliver food aid more regularly and more widely that limited funding and fuel shortages currently allow.
CNN witnessed the impact of the fuel shortages in the trucks laden with food, medicine and other basic needs sitting stationary in a line running for miles near Hodeidah, unable to move without enough fuel.
A humanitarian source in Yemen told CNN that the amount of fuel coming in was far from adequate.
“It’s four vessels that maybe cover half of fuel needs for a month. But it’s been nearly three months of no fuel, on top of six months of irregular supply. You can’t drip feed fuel.”
Allowing more fuel into the country will help hospitals and households to keep their generators going, but none of the four ships cleared to dock are carrying petrol, which most Yemenis use for transport to reach basic goods and services.
Yemenis have had to line up for days regularly this year to purchase limited supplies of fuel, and often turn to the black market, paying inflated prices to power their vehicles.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price welcomed the development that four fuel ships had been cleared to dock, saying the free flow of fuel was critical in supporting the delivery of aid.
“The fuel must go to Yemeni markets without delay to power hospitals, ensure the delivery of food and access to water, and generally help alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people,” he said in a statement, saying it was a “step in the right direction.”
He also called on the Houthi rebels to end its offensive in the governorate of Marib and to agree to a ceasefire.
“We call on all parties to come to the table to negotiate for the sake of Yemen and its people,” Price said.
CNN’s Barbara Arvanitidis, Jennifer Hansler and Richard Roth contributed to this report.