Iona Craig reports: At 11.30pm, 10 nautical miles off Yemen’s western Red Sea coast, seven fishermen were near the end of the four hours it had taken to haul their nets bulging with the day’s catch into their fibreglass boat. Suddenly, away from the illumination of the vessel’s large spotlight, one of the men spotted a black silhouette coming towards them.
Moments later a helicopter began circling overhead. The fishermen were well within the 30 nautical mile boundary they had been warned not to cross by leaflets airdropped on land by the Saudi-led coalition. But, without warning, gunfire erupted from the helicopter.
Osam Mouafa grabbed his friend, Abdullah, dragging him into a corner, curling himself into a protective ball as bullets flew through the boat. Shot in both knees, with a third bullet having grazed his thigh, Osam began to feel water rising around him. “The boat became like a sieve,” he said, sitting next to the wooden stick he now needs to walk.
By the time the onslaught stopped, the captain – a father of eight – and Abdullah were dead. Another crew member, Hamdi, was deafened and paralysed down one side after being hit in the head by shrapnel. All bleeding heavily, the five survivors frantically began bailing water out of the sinking boat.
The partially submerged vessel, with the fishermen’s clothes plugging the holes, drifted at sea for 15 hours until another boat rescued them, towing them ashore.
Since Saudi Arabia launched its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015, more than 10,000 civilians have died. More than 250 fishing boats have been damaged or destroyed and 152 fishermen have been killed by coalition warships and helicopters in the Red Sea, according to Mohammed Hassani, the head of the fishermen’s union in Yemen’s western port of Hodeidah.
“They have declared war on fishermen,” said Hassani. More than 100 miles further south in the port of Mocha, fishermen have been barred from going out to sea since the Houthi-Saleh forces, who the Saudi-led coalition have been fighting for more than two and half years, were pushed out by Yemeni fighters backed by a coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates, in February. [Continue reading…]