Lengthy coastline poses difficulties for Yemeni Coast Guard [Archives:2006/1005/Reportage]

December 7 2006
Col. Ali Mohammed Al-Sobhi
Col. Ali Mohammed Al-Sobhi
Yemens lengthy coastline makes it difficult for the authority to cover Yemens entire coast.
Yemens lengthy coastline makes it difficult for the authority to cover Yemens entire coast.
By: Mahmoud Al-Harazi
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

The goal of the Yemeni Coast Guard is to protect national security and sovereignty by protecting its exclusive economic zone, its coasts, islands and maritime ports. To learn more about this important mission, the Yemen Times met with deputy chairman of the Yemeni Coast Guard, Col. Ali Mohammed Al-Sobhi.

Can you give a brief history of the Yemeni Coast Guard?

The Coast Guard Authority is a security institution under the Ministry of Interior established by 2002's Presidential Decree No. 1. However, it actually began operating in 2003.

What are some of the coast guard's achievements?

Since its founding, and especially recently, the Coast Guard Authority has achieved numerous successes, such as:

Upgrading the security level of Yemeni ports to the same as the global security level, whereby Yemen's ports have become safer. Yemen also complied with international standards issued by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) by applying conditions of the December 2002 International Code for the Security of Ships and Port Facilities (ISPS), which went into force in July 2004.

The authority began working from scratch in terms of labor, equipment and infrastructure. The Coast Guard Authority presidency recently has focused the establishment's interest on coastal strip infrastructure represented by building sidewalks, berths for anchoring boats, central and subsidiary maintenance workshops, administration and housing buildings in the Gulf of Aden from Al-Makha in Taiz province to Shakra in Abyan governorate along the coastline. Construction facilities also are planned in Hodeidah and Saleef ports. We're also seeking to establish the same in the Red Sea sector, which will be based in Hodeidah. Early next year, construction will begin on a regulatory and practical center containing administration and housing. We'll also construct an area to anchor boats in Al-Hawtah and Al-Luhaiya cities.

The Yemeni Coast Guard Authority has provided boats and naval patrols to guard 80 different sizes of boats with government funding and foreign aid. It also has equipped a modern central sector in the Gulf of Aden with maintenance docks and cranes to lift boats of up to 50 tons.

With Italian financing, the authority also plans to install a modern coastal radar system stretching from Al-Khokha in Hodeidah province to Shakra in Abyan province. Work will begin on this project at the end of this year.

What are the functions of the Coast Guard Authority?

– Planning special operations to combat smuggling and infiltration, guarding coastlines and marine ports, performing search and rescue missions and providing maritime assistance.

– Monitoring natural variables in the marine environment and their potential impacts on marine resources, as well as informing competent authorities.

– Collecting security information regarding infiltration and smuggling of goods, drugs and other items, as well as illegal fishing and environmental violations.

– Developing training and rehabilitation plans to increase employee efficiency and assisting competent authorities in training programs.

– Preparing studies and scientific research related to competence areas and coordinating with competent authorities and scientific research centers.

– Collecting information, data and statistics on Yemeni commercial vessels, ships and fishing boats, cruise ships, as well as ships and foreign companies licensed to practice economic activities in Yemeni waters.

– Ensuring continued readiness for central operations and subsidiary tasks, regulating distress signals and receiving calls at their operations rooms.

– Pursuing ships when there are reasons to believe that such vessels have violated Yemeni laws, regulations and/or international conventions.

– Assisting competent authorities to combat marine pollution by transferring equipment and necessary materials to contaminated areas on land or in water.

– Contributing to implementing bilateral agreements and treaties at regional and international levels for marine environment protection and natural resources conservation, both living and non-living, as well as organizing marine fishing in territorial waters, the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone.

– Coordinating and cooperating with counterparts in neighboring countries to confront and combat risks or challenges from regional damage occurring in Yemeni waters or neighboring seas, according to conventions.

Please describe the Yemeni Coast Guard training.

The Coast Guard Authority has established an institute equipped with all means of training and specialized training for coast guard employees and stakeholders in areas of marine navigation, communications, mechanics, maritime art, maritime interdiction and port security. Additionally, many coast guard personnel were sent abroad for foreign training sessions in the United States, Britain, Pakistan and Malaysia.

What's the relationship between the Yemeni Coast Guard and coast guard branches in Aden, Mukalla and Hodeidah?

The coast guard presidency headquarters is in Sana'a, according to the establishment's decision. Regarding the other provinces, which are branches of the Coast Guard Authority, we focused on a strategic plan to spread coast guard units along the coastal strip. We divided the coastal strip into several sectors, such as the Gulf of Aden sector based in Aden, the Red Sea sector based in Hodeidah and the Arabian Sea sector based in Mukalla. All of our coast guard branches coordinate with other security units.

What's your role in protecting Yemeni islands?

The tasks entrusted to the Coast Guard Authority are national authority in Yemeni territorial waters and economic intervention, which are the heart of our tasks in these islands as part of Yemeni soil. What applies regarding security tasks along the coastal strip applies to the islands coastal strip. Article 3, paragraph 1 of the 2002 presidential decree states that the Coast Guard Authority should protect the Republic of Yemen's security and sovereignty in territorial waters, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf and guard its coasts, islands and marine facilities.

We recently heard about joint drills with French and U.S. forces to train the Yemeni Coast Guard. What are the details of this training?

The French have given finances to improve the Yemeni Coast Guard and build some training institutes. They've previously sent us some experts to train Yemeni Coast Guard crews.

From time to time, the U.S. sends specialized teams to train Yemeni Coast Guard crews in maritime security, as well as security and protection of the marine environment. The U.S., which is the Yemeni Coast Guard's largest supporter, also has provided grants in various disciplines, such as training and providing maintenance and other equipment, as well as boat supplies.

What difficulties does the Coast Guard Authority face?

Firstly, at more than 2,300 square kilometers, Yemen's lengthy coastline makes it difficult for the authority to cover Yemen's entire coast, as well as lack of Yemeni human and material resources. Yemeni Coast Guard employees also require rehabilitation, training and other assistance.

Does this mean Yemen's coastlines are open or have gaps?

No, this doesn't mean Yemen's coastal areas are open. Other security forces, such as the Republican Guard and Central Security, also are involved in protecting the nation's coastline.

How is it that thousands of Somalis were able to enter Yemen throughout 2006?

Due to the length of Yemen's coastline, there are distant places which the Yemeni Coast Guard can't cover, such as the eastern sector (the Arabian Sea), as well as the islands. However, the coast guard has implemented a new strategy to cover all sectors and the coasts.

Do you have any final comments?

Many thanks to the Yemen Times for this press coverage. I'd like to point out here that the great successes achieved by the stakeholders during this short time period have earned the admiration of local and international governments, which will review its success as an example in foreign seminars.