Belgium: activists successfully stop Saudi arms ship from docking in Antwerp

In the foreground an activist stands in a DIY checkpoint barrier. Others hold banners in Belgian, protesting arms sales to Saudi Arabia
Activists set up a weapons checkpoint at the port of Antwerp. Photo: Vredesactie

Activist in Belgium have successfully stopped a Saudi ship transporting weapons from the US, Canada and Europe from docking in the port of Antwerp.

On Saturday 1st February, as the Saudi arms ship the "Bahri Yanbu" approached the port, fifty citizen weapons inspectors set up a checkpoint and stopped trucks to inspect them for weapons. Trucks that confirmed they were not carrying weapons were given the label: “arms-free truck” and were allowed to enter.  The ship is known to transport military equipment to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen. As well as Antwerp, the Bahri Yanbu is expected to visit the ports of Bremerhaven, Germany; Tilbury Docks, UK; Cherbourg, France; and Genoa, Italy.

Dutch media sources confirmed that the Bahri Yanbu wouldn't be docking in Antwerp, and that the Dutch authorities had threatened to remove items of cargo from the ship, and had even threatened the "monster fines" and even jail sentences if the ship entered the port. The spokesperson from the company also confirmed that the cargo on the ship was destined for the Saudi military.

Around fifty citizen weapons inspectors controlled trucks driving into the port of Antwerp to check them for weapons. In 2018 and 2019, more than 50 tonnes of explosives and ammunitions were picked up by Bahri ships with Saudi Arabia as their destination. Protests and legal action were also successful in stopping some shipments from being loaded onto the vessel.

“The port of Antwerp is a logistical hub for arms exports to the war in Yemen”, Bram Vranken from the peace organisation Vredesactie says. “War Crime Inspectors are making sure that no weapons will reach the docks today”. Vredesactie is also began legal proceedings alongside other organisations CNAPD, Ligue des Droits Humains and Amnesty International against the Belgian government, demanding a six month moratorium to arms shipments to Saudi Arabia. The Belgian courts rejected the demand. In 2019 several export licenses were already canceled by the Belgian Conseil d’Etat as the Walloon government hadn’t taken into account the violations of international humanitarian law when granting its licenses. The organisations are now trying to end all arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

“International and Belgian arms export rules are very clear. Weapons should not be exported if there is a risk that these will used in human rights violations. If our governments are not willing to stop the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia, we have no other choice than do it ourselves.”, Vranken states.

More than 100,000 people have lost their lives in the war in Yemen, now in its fifth year. Famine caused by the Saudi naval blockade endangers the lives of more than 17 million people. The UN calls it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations all actors involved in the war have committed grave violations against international law in Yemen.

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