Mystery over destination of arms shipment thought to be headed for Tilbury

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Protesters headed to the Port of Tilbury to demonstrate against the arrival of a ship believed to be loaded with military equipment – only to find it did not arrive.

Numerous shipping logs show the Bahri Yanbu ship, owned by Saudi Arabia’s national shipping company, was due to stop at Tilbury on Wednesday afternoon after previously being turned away from Antwerp in Belgium due to protests.

Campaigners fear the arms on board could be used by Saudi-led forces that are carrying out a bombing campaign in Yemen which has put 14 million people at risk of famine.

As the ship neared UK waters, protesters raised banners at the Port of Tilbury declaring “no weapons beyond this point” and “stop arming Saudi”.

Questions were also raised by lawyers from Leigh Day who wrote to the Government’s legal department to question whether the ship’s arrival was consistent with a Court of Appeal ruling from June which said the government should suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

But the ship did not arrive. Maritime tracking websites show that instead, it anchored in the Thames Estuary after travelling from Europe.

The Port of Tilbury declined to comment and the Port Authority said Bahri Yanbu would not be docking at a port in London.

Meanwhile, numerous shipping websites continue to note Tilbury as a stopping point.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: “We have no doubt that this ship was expected to dock in the UK, and the paper trail is pointing to Tilbury.

“There are clearly important questions for the government to answer about this ship and what may be on it. If the ship has changed route then when was that decided, and why?”

As well as concern being raised by campaigners, councillors were also critical of the ship stopping in the port. Thurrock Labour Councillor Martin Kerin had called it “very concerning” and said the borough must be “vigilant” about what kind of shipments are reaching the ports.

Southend councillor Matt Dent (Lab) said it was “encouraging” that protesters were willing to stand up on these kinds of issues.
Councillor Martin Terry (Ind) added: “I admire people’s concern. What is happening in Yemen is an outrage.”

Throughout the five-year conflict in Yemen, the UK government has sold billions of pounds worth of arms to Saudi Arabia despite evidence of war crimes including the bombing of weddings, funerals and schools.

The government was eventually forced to stop in June when the Court of Appeal ruled the government had “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.

The decision is being appealed.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter

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