Iran steals Yemen's fish wealth as millions face food insecurity

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

Yemeni fishermen dock their boats at the port of the Red Sea city of al-Hodeidah on June 11th, 2019. [Stringer/AFP]

Yemeni fishermen dock their boats at the port of the Red Sea city of al-Hodeidah on June 11th, 2019. [Stringer/AFP]

Yemeni officials are accusing the Iranian regime of compounding the food insecurity crisis in their country in the wake of a recent report that documents Iran's illegal fishing activity in Yemen's territorial waters.

In Yemen, the price of food has skyrocketed, and the World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that despite humanitarian assistance, 20 million Yemenis can be classified as food insecure, with nearly 10 million facing acute food shortages.

In a mid-July report, several UN agencies warned that acute food insecurity is forecast to rise sharply in Yemen over a combination of factors, AFP reported.

The increase in food insecurity is "alarming", according to the WFP, Food and Agriculture Organisation, UNICEF and other partners who prepared the report.

Economic shocks, conflict, floods, locusts and now the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are creating a perfect storm for the expected sharp rise in food insecurity, the report said.

Meanwhile, Iran has been helping itself to Yemen's fish wealth.

In a June report, Global Fishing Watch and Trygg Mat Tracking revealed that Iran has been conducting a massive illegal fishing operation in the Indian Ocean, with nearly 200 vessels operating in Yemeni and Somali waters.

Taking food from the needy

In addition to Iran's theft of Yemen's fish wealth, a significant amount of food aid is plundered by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) before it reaches the Yemeni people, said Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez.

"By looting fish wealth and preventing food aid from reaching the needy, Iran and the Houthis are trying to starve the people as part of their plan to subjugate them," he told Al-Mashareq.

Iran has taken advantage of the turmoil created by the war to enter Yemeni territorial waters and conduct illegal fishing expeditions, he said, adding that "it considers Yemeni territorial waters as part of its areas of influence".

He called on the UN Security Council to take a serious stance against the actions of Iran and the Houthis, in accordance with UN resolution 2216, which stipulates that humanitarian aid must not be obstructed or denied.

According to the resolution, it may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law if humanitarian access is denied to civilians or if they are deprived of objects indispensable to their survival.

It "urges all parties to facilitate the delivery of aid, as well as rapid, safe and unhindered access for humanitarian actors to reach people in need of humanitarian assistance, including medical assistance".

Minister of Fish Wealth Fahd Kafayen has previously accused Iran of using fishing vessels to smuggle weapons to the Houthis in Yemen.

Overt theft of Yemenis' food

Iran's decision to fish in Yemen's territorial waters amounts to "theft in plain sight" of Yemen's fish wealth, Abdul Hafeez said.

"All Iran's interventions in Yemen and its support for the Houthis have contributed to the growing poverty and deterioration of the health and educational situation," he said.

"Iran is as responsible as the Houthis for the triad of poverty, hunger and disease" ravaging Yemen, he added, noting that with its actions, the Iranian regime is violating international treaties that regulate marine fishing.

"The illegal fishing by Iran depletes Yemen's fish wealth, and the Security Council must hold it accountable for it because it violates the arms embargo on Yemen," he said.

"Iran is under a blockade, so it has resorted to alleviating its financial crisis by stealing Yemen's maritime wealth, in the absence of a state in Yemen to stop it," political analyst Adel al-Shujaa told Al-Mashareq.

He pointed out that Iran has been supplying the Houthis with weapons, but noted that even the Houthis will suffer from the theft of fish wealth, and their supporters will suffer if the delivery of food aid to Yemen is obstructed.

Iran is violating international law

Describing Iran's tactics, political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq the Iranian regime has a history of "starving its people, and peoples living under the control of its militias", to further its own goals and agenda.

"Hunger and increased suffering brought on by conflict humiliates people and makes them subservient to it and its militias," he said, which in turn drives recruitment into the ranks of the Houthis, as people seek to earn an income.

"Iran is violating the embargo and international law on illegal fishing," he said, calling for increased sanctions to stop such practices that help the regime circumvent the blockade and support its militias.

"Iran is experiencing an economic crisis because it spends a lot of money on exporting violence and forming terrorist militias, and so it looks for sources of income to overcome its economic crisis," said Ahmed.

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