The chief of the UN mission in Hodeidah, currently under Houthi guard in a Sana'a hotel under the pretext of coronavirus quarantine, has been unable to secure the ship's release
Houthis detain UN ship carrying government officials in Hodeidah
A UN-chartered ship remains stuck in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah amid accusations that Houthis stormed the vessel and detained government officials onboard who are trying to sail to a port down the coast.
The stranded officials are the internationally recognized government’s delegation to the UN Joint Redeployment Coordination Committee, which seeks to implement the Stockholm peace agreement brokered with the Houthis in Sweden in late 2018. The Stockholm Agreement, also known as the Hodeidah Agreement, was negotiated to spare Hodeidah city and its vital ports from potentially devastating battles between government and Houthi forces.
The Houthis have neither confirmed nor denied storming and holding the ship, but deny detaining the government officials.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement (UNMHA) has been tight-lipped on the unfolding situation.
The government suspended its redeployment team's duties on March 11 after a Houthi sniper targeted its liaison officer, Col. Mohammed Sulaihi, at a joint checkpoint, leaving the remaining officers stranded in Hodeidah.
Mohammed Al-Qadiri, a Houthi member of the UN redeployment committee, said the government 's accusations were baseless and called them an attempt to renege on its obligations to implement the peace agreement.
In a statement published in the September 26 newspaper in Yemen's capital Sana'a, Al-Qadiri denied detaining the government team on the UN ship and blamed the UN for the government’s intransigence.
UNMHA has remained silent about the Houthi attack on the joint checkpoint and has not commented on the Houthis' alleged detention of the ship, which has served as one of its offices in Hodeidah.
UNMHA has not replied to Al-Masdar Online's request for comment via WhatsApp regarding the situation on the ship.
The Houthis have repeatedly prevented the ship from leaving the port to transport government officials to Al-Mocha port, about 185 kilometers south of Hodeidah.
On Wednesday evening, Indian Lt. Gen. Abhijit Guha, chair of the UN redeployment committee and head of UNMHA, told the head of the government’s redeployment team, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Aydha, that he was working to move the ship as soon as possible. Guha is currently confined to a hotel in Sana'a under Houthi guard under the pretext of a coronavirus quarantine.
Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi said that the ship is supposed to be a neutral site for negotiations under UN supervision. It became the forum for negotiations after Houthis refused to meet in government-held areas.
Badi called the detention of the UN-chartered ship a bullying tactic against the UN and its mission in Hodeidah, adding that he regretted Guha's inability to intervene and persuade the Houthis to let the ship depart despite constant communication with the mission.
In a statement to Almasdar Online, Wadah Al-Dubaish, a spokesman for the coalition of anti-Houthi fighters on the west coast known as the Joint Forces Command, said that UNMHA provided the Houthis with UN cover but the UN mission was now held hostage in Hodeidah by the Houthis.
Implementation of the Stockholm Agreement has stalled since its signing in Sweden in late 2018. Both sides have been accused of violating and circumventing the agreement.
Dutch Gen. Patrick Cammert, the first UN-appointed commander of the mission in Hodeidah, chartered the UN ship currently being held as a solution to the Houthis’ refusal to meet in government-controlled areas.
The Houthis' detention of the ship and the prevention of its exit from the port is not the only dilemma facing UNMHA. The mission has also faced criticism for a massive budget that seems to have achieved little so far.
The monthly contracted cost of chartering the ship is $810,000, according to UN budget documents. A UN budget review committee recommended terminating the lease of the ship by the end of March, giving the Guha a small window to transfer the government officers to Al-Mocha port if he succeeds in ending the Houthi detention.