The U.N.'s special envoy to Yemen warned Friday that he was "extremely concerned" that the Saudi-led military coalition may attack the Port of Hodeidah, which is held by the Houthi rebel alliance. Security analysts with Stratfor report that coalition forces are now only 90 miles south of the port.
Hodeidah is a major transshipment hub for relief agencies' cargoes: it handles an estimated 70 percent of the country's food aid imports. The U.N. warns that over 17 million Yemenis are currently at risk of starvation due to the ongoing civil war, and human rights advocates have accused the Saudi coalition of blockading Hodeidah to prevent supplies from getting through.
The coalition called on the U.N. to take over the management of Hodeidah in March, but spokesman Farhan Haq emphasized that it is not within aid agencies' brief to operate ports. "Parties to the conflict have a clear responsibility to protect civilian infrastructure and fundamentally to protect civilians. These are not obligations they can shift to others," Haq told Reuters.
In its latest situation update published March 9, North P&I Club reported that Hodeidah was operational. The port of Mokha, 100 miles to the south, is held by the coalition but is listed as unsafe: a Yemeni Coast Guard vessel recently hit a mine in the area, killing two servicemembers.
The stretch of Yemeni coastline north of Hodeidah was the launching point for a series of missile attacks against U.S. Navy vessels and coalition support craft last year. In October, the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze bombarded three Houthi coastal radar sites to neutralize the threat to shipping. The U.S. provides a limited amount of material support to the Saudi coalition, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis has recently advocated for increasing America’s involvement in the conflict.