Yemeni fishermen face threat of Houthi attack – but on Gaza they are firmly behind the militants

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Yemen’s fishermen set out at dawn to take on seas where they know they could face pirates, smugglers, and now Houthi militant missile attacks.

“We’re always scared,” Awad tells us as he sits on the edge of the wooden fishing boat.

“Because you don’t know when you will be attacked.”

The Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have become the new battleground in the spreading war in Gaza.

Houthi missiles targeting international shipping routes have caused havoc to global trade, led to a rise in food prices and brought heightened misery to the Yemenis who rely on the waters for their livelihoods.

Gaza war ‘affects us 100%’

The waters are choppy and it is windy the morning we join a group of fishermen in the Gulf of Aden.

They tell us their hauls have reduced, their costs have gone up, and they rarely make a profit now after hours of back-breaking work on the seas.

“The war affects our work 100 per cent,” fisherman Naeem Hamoudy tells us as he’s busy pulling in his latest haul.

Yemen's fishermen set out at dawn to take on seas where they know they could face pirates, smugglers and now Houthi militant missile attacks. For Alex Crawford eyewitness.
Yemen's fishermen set out at dawn to take on seas where they know they could face pirates, smugglers and now Houthi militant missile attacks. For Alex Crawford eyewitness.

Their income has been cut by as much as 90%, he insists.

Yet every one of the fishermen appears to support the action taken in support of the Palestinians – despite the impact on their livelihoods.

“The Houthis oppress us,” says one.

These men are on the opposite side of Yemen’s civil war to the Houthis militants – but the Houthi stance protesting at Israeli aggression in Gaza has won grudging respect from them.

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“We are with Gaza,” says Naeem.

“And we will be with Gaza until we die because we are Arabs and our blood is one blood.”

“They are killing women and children,” he goes on in reference to the Israeli bombardment in the Strip.

“It is not an army against an army.”


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But there’s no doubt life is already hard for these fishermen, and it’s getting harder.

After nearly a decade of civil war, the spreading impact of what’s happening in Gaza is affecting some of the poorest people in the world.

After several hours on the seas, the small fishing team have hauled in a smaller-than-normal catch.

Yemen's fishermen set out at dawn to take on seas where they know they could face pirates, smugglers and now Houthi militant missile attacks. For Alex Crawford eyewitness.
Yemen's fishermen set out at dawn to take on seas where they know they could face pirates, smugglers and now Houthi militant missile attacks. For Alex Crawford eyewitness.

They’re disappointed yet insist they’re grateful too.

“Sometimes we get nothing,” Naeem says.

“But this won’t even really cover the cost of the fuel for the boat.”

He works out they’ll probably make the equivalent of a dollar each for their hours of work.

‘Biggest threat is from the Houthis’

There are considerable problems keeping Yemen’s seas safe. We are taken on a tour along the coast by the head of Yemen’s Navy himself – Admiral Abdullah al Nakhai.

He takes us out on one of the two new boats they’ve received.

The fleet is small, he tells us and certainly not big enough to counter the triple threats of piracy, smuggling and the Houthi attacks.

Special correspondent for Sky News, Alex Crawford, is taken on a tour along the coast by the head of Yemen's Navy himself - Admiral Abdullah al-Nakhai.
Image:
The head of Yemen’s navy – Admiral Abdullah al Nakhai

Alex Crawford, special correspondent for Sky News, onboard a naval ship in Yemen.
Image:
Alex Crawford, special correspondent for Sky News, onboard a naval ship in Yemen

The biggest threat, he insists, comes from the Houthis.

“We’re morally responsible for protecting our territorial waters,” he explains.

“But at the moment, we don’t have the means to protect against piracy, terrorism, smuggling and the Houthi intrusion.”

He says much more international help is needed for Yemen to counter these dangers.

“If we don’t get support to help us confront the Houthis,” he goes on, “then the opposite will be the case. And the opposite of security is chaos in the sea – that’s terrorism, piracy and disruption.”

Yemen's navy takes Alex Crawford on one of the two new boats they've received. The fleet is small, certainly not big enough to counter the triple threats of piracy, smuggling and the Houthi attacks. For Alex Crawford eyewitness.
Image:
The fleet of Yemen’s navy is small, and has to contend with the threat of militants, piracy, and smuggling

Yemen's navy takes Alex Crawford on one of the two new boats they've received. The fleet is small, certainly not big enough to counter the triple threats of piracy, smuggling and the Houthi attacks.

Scientists race to avert potential disaster

In the country’s ageing laboratories in Aden, the scientists are fighting a different sort of battle – that of potential catastrophic pollution of Yemen’s seas.

The Houthi attacks against ships passing through the critical Bab al Mandab Strait, has hit a vessel with thousands of tonnes of hazardous chemicals on board.

The Rubymar has been laying off the Yemeni Red Sea coast since mid-February and is now mostly submerged.

Yemeni scientists have already been testing water samples gathered from the waters near the sunken vessel under challenging conditions.
Image:
Yemeni scientists have already been testing water samples gathered from the waters near the sunken vessel under challenging conditions

Yemeni scientists have already been testing water samples gathered from the waters near the sunken vessel under challenging conditions.

A trail of oil was seen seeping out into the sea shortly after the attack – but scientists are far more worried about the prospect of the cargo of dangerous chemical fertiliser emptying into the waters.

“The leaking could happen any time – today or tomorrow,” Tawfiq Al-Sharjabi, the Minister for Water and Environment warned.

“It’s urgent we get international help to sort this as soon as possible.”

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Yemeni scientists have painted a terrifying picture of a potentially catastrophic environmental disaster if the chemical cargo is not safely extracted.

If the cargo leaks out of the ship’s containers instead, the chemicals could end up destroying swathes of the Red Sea and its precious marine life.

The sinking Rubymar. Pic: Al-joumhouriyah Tv
Image:
The sinking Rubymar. Pic: Al-joumhouriyah Tv

“If it happens,” Mr Al-Sharjabi said, “it will affect the whole Red Sea – the mangrove trees, the marine life and the Red Sea coast. Imagine how many fishermen rely on the sea every day and this will affect the whole fishing community”.

A document outlining the urgency of removing the chemicals from the sunken ship – seen by Sky News – was sent to the United Nations two weeks ago.

Yemeni scientists have already been testing samples gathered from the waters near the sunken vessel under challenging conditions.

The lab manager at the Aden Oil Refinery, Dr Safa Gamal Nasser told us the scientists were struggling with antiquated equipment and a lack of raw materials such as the solutions required to conform to international testing standards.
Image:
The lab manager at the Aden Oil Refinery, Dr Safa Gamal Nasser

The lab manager at the Aden Oil Refinery, Dr Safa Gamal Nasser told us the scientists were struggling with antiquated equipment and a lack of raw materials such as the solutions required to conform to international testing standards.

“We are doing our best,” she said.

But she went on to say Yemen is in desperate need of outside help.

Alex Crawford reports from Yemen with camera Jake Britton, Specialist producer Chris Cunningham and Yemen producer Ahmed Baider.

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