Yemeni fishermen in the Red Sea coastal districts of al-Mokha and Dhubab have appealed to the Yemeni government and Arab coalition for protection from Iranian vessels that have been threatening their lives and livelihoods.
In addition to posing a threat to Yemeni fishermen, the presence of Iranian ships has a negative effect on the safety of territorial waters and international navigation in the Red Sea, fishermen said.
Members of the Fishermen Union in Taez staged a protest on November 20th in al-Mokha and Dhubab to denounce the presence of the Iranian ship Saviz in Yemen's territorial waters and the Red Sea and call for protection.
In a November 21st statement carried by local media, Fathi al-Moallem, head of the Yemeni Coast Guard in al-Mokha, said the Saviz had killed 40 Yemeni fishermen since August.
Sixty fishermen were wounded, al-Moallem added, and a number of boats sustained varying degrees of damage from the Saviz's attacks, which threaten the lives of the fishermen and the security of Yemen.
"The Iranian ship is harassing the fishermen, preventing them from fishing and depriving them from earning their livelihood," fisherman Ali Saeed from Dhubab district told Al-Mashareq.
Saeed said the Iranian ship has fired at the fishermen, killing some and wounding others, and causing various degrees of damage to their boats.
He said he helped with an operation to rescue four fishermen at sea after their boat was disabled by the Iranian ship, following an attack more than 10 nautical miles offshore.
He called on the Yemeni government and Arab coalition forces to stop these violations "so we can practice the profession of fishing that enables us to feed our families and children".
Fishermen fear for their safety
The fighting poses a mortal threat to an industry the World Bank says employed some 10,000 registered fishermen in al-Hodeidah and the surrounding province before the war, AFP reported.
The Arab coalition says its air and maritime embargo is needed to prevent Iran from delivering weapons to the Houthis, and the danger of being shot or intercepted at sea has forced fishermen to stay close to shore.
"We are really scared to go out to sea, to the extent that we say goodbye to our children every time we leave the house because we do not know if we are coming back," fisherman Ali Mohammed told AFP.
"A rocket could strike you and you would not know where it came from," Mohammed said. "There are fishermen still missing at sea... they went out and never came back."
"We used to have a lot more fish in the past because we were able to go further into the sea," said fellow fisherman Mohammed Salem Adwein.
Fishing boats used to go out as much as 100 nautical miles (185 kilometres) into the Red Sea, he said: "Now we go about 20-25 nautical miles (37-46 kilometres) out, and we are terrified."
Tor al-Amer, who works at the docks, said al-Hodeidah’s fishermen face a bitter choice.
"A fisherman will starve to death if he stays home, but if he goes out to sea he will die from being bombed," he said.
Covert military operations
Addressing the issue of Iranian ships in the Red Sea in a November 12th interview with Al-Arabiya, Minister of Fish Wealth Fahd Kavieen said they have been conducting military and intelligence missions under commercial cover.
"The Iranian intelligence role in support of the Houthi militia is not new," political analyst Khaled Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.
"Iranian ships roaming the Red Sea have been performing this role, in addition to smuggling weapons to the Houthis," he said.
This is done by transporting arms from Iran to Eritrea, he said. From here, he added, the lethal cargo is ferried to the Houthis onboard small boats.
The Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) have previously interdicted Iranian ships laden with weapons in the Gulf of Aden and Bab al-Mandab strait, he said.
"Without question, Iranian activity in this region undermines security and stability in the most important waterway and poses a serious threat to international shipping," he said.
Ahmed called on Arab coalition countries to play an active role in monitoring Iranian movements and preventing them from providing lethal support to the Houthis.
"Any Iranian presence in the Red Sea poses a threat that must be addressed because it jeopardises international navigation," Adel al-Shujaa of the General People's Congress (GPC) general committee told Al-Mashareq.
The abuses committed by Iranian vessels against Yemeni fishermen "confirm that these Iranian ships are practicing piracy with impunity", he said.