Gunboats will make a difference [Archives:2004/728/Front Page]

April 12 2004

By Peter Willems,
Mohammed al-Qadhi
and Ridhwan Al-Saqqaf

Since the USS Cole was bombed by Al-Qaeda operatives at the port of Aden in 2001, the security of Yemeni ports has been a major concern.
After the attack, US warships stopped coming to Aden for refueling. When the French oil tanker Limburg was bombed off the coast of Mukalla two years later, insurance premiums skyrocketed and the number of ships heading for the container terminal at the Aden port plummeted.
But the inauguration last Wednesday of the seven United States gunboats delivered to Yemen may help lift the shadow of potential terrorist bombings in Yemeni waters.
The ceremony was attended by Governor of Aden, Dr. Yahya Al-Shuaibi, U.S. Ambassador Edmund Hull, Admiral Duncan Smith of the U.S. Coastguard, General Ali Rassa, Chief of the Yemeni Coastguard, Brigadier General Mastin Robeson, Commander of the U.S. Joint Task Force/Horn of Africa and numerous other dignitaries and diplomatic representatives.
The gunboats are planned to be used to protect the Yemeni ports and coastline by the newly established Yemen Coastguard. The personnel of the new security division have been trained by the US Coastguard.
“The inauguration of the gunboats was a very significant step,” said Abdul Karim Al-Ariani, former Yemeni Prime Minister and advisor to President Ali Abdullah Saleh. “The Yemeni government has put a lot of energy into securing the ports, and security at the ports has developed dramatically.”
Increased security along the shores of Yemen has already shown some positive results. At the inauguration, a US marine commander said if Yemen continues to secure its waters and fight terror, US warships might return to Yemeni ports this year.
After business at the port of Aden hit rock bottom following the attack on Limburg, the Yemeni government has been able to persuade shipping lines to use the port, and the volume of ships has increased steadily.
“The number of ships coming to the port of Aden has climbed dramatically,” said Omar Al-Amodey, Minister of Transport & Maritime Affairs. “It is still 20% lower than before Limburg, but the increase has been substantial.”
By putting up a $50 million guarantee, the Yemeni government was able to get the insurance companies to lower their premiums. And because of increased security, the government hopes to get the $50 million back this year.
Last month, a British company hired by the Ministry of Transport came to evaluate the security of Yemeni ports. The company is scheduled to turn in their report this month, and the Ministry of Transport is expecting positive results.
The Yemeni government's efforts to fight terrorism on land should also help build confidence. Along with the arrests of top Al-Qaeda members and rounding up of numerous terror suspects since the government joined the war on terror in 2001, early this month security forces captured six suspects involved in the USS Cole bombing and five others implicated in the attack on Limburg. The suspects are scheduled to go to trial in a Yemeni court in April.
At the inauguration of the gunboats the US Ambassador to Yemen, Edmund Hull, said that not only will the new gunboats increase security in Yemeni waters, but the United States is willing to offer financial support to the Yemeni government to buy a further 8 patrol boats at a cost of $8 million, although this was not mentioned in the US Embassy press release.
The US is Yemen's main partner in the coastguard project, and the cost of this project is expected to mount to $60 million. However, last month, Prime Minister Abdul-Qader Bajammal said that Yemen is in need of $700 million to patrol its shores properly. Yemen has complained several times that it is not getting enough support from the US in this regard. However, the US officials said that they are committed to support Yemen but they stress tight security is the interest of Yemen itself and protecting its borders is the responsibility of Yemen government.
But some believe that increasing security along the Yemeni shorelines will still be a challenge. Not only does Yemen have several important ports, but the country's coastline, along the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, is 1,550 miles long. However, the strategic location of the Yemeni coast, including the importance of the Bab al-Mandab Straiys and Aden port, ensure continuing international interest in security measures.
“The new coastguard and the gunboats are very important, but security along the Yemeni coastline will have to continue to be increased,” said a foreign diplomat in Yemen.
But the Yemeni government's efforts to secure its ports and receipt of the first batch of gunboats will make a difference.
“If we had had a proper coastguard, the attack on USS Cole probably wouldn't have happened,” said Al-Ariani. “The efforts that have been made for in the fields of equipment, training and monitoring should really make the ports in Yemen secure.”