Seismic Vessel Detained on Smuggling Charge

The Mainport Cedar (courtesy Mainport)

By MarEx 2016-02-16 14:00:19

Arab Coalition forces off Yemen have detained the Marshall Islands-flagged seismic support vessel Mainport Cedar, reportedly en route from Djibouti to Hodeidah port in Yemen.

Speaking to Sky News Arabia on February 14, a coalition spokesperson said that the vessel was found to be carrying military communications equipment and military hardware in shipping containers, and that the port of origin of the cargo was Bandar Abbas, Iran.

The vessel was taken to the port of Jizan, Saudi Arabia and inspected, with full documentation and the presence of international observers, the spokesperson said.

The 2013-built, 1700 GRT Cedar's last AIS position, received February 9, shows her stopped off the coast of Djibouti.

Cork, Ireland-based Mainport Holdings, the Cedar’s operator, told Maritime Executive on Tuesday that there were no weapons or military equipment on board the vessel, and that the shipment was made on behalf of the World Food Program (WFP). 

WFP spokeswoman Jane Howard said Tuesday that the vessel was carrying IT and communications equipment to support the work of humanitarian relief organizations in Yemen, and that Saudi authorities had diverted it for inspection on claims that the shipment’s paperwork was not in order. WFP has agreed to resubmit the paperwork. 

Additionally, Howard said that the vessel had been making regular trips from Djibouti to Yemen for some time, and that it had not called at Bandar Abbas. 

A spokesman for Mainport added that this was the first problem the firm had encountered with Saudi authorities, and that Mainport hoped to secure the release of the Cedar and her 13 crew soon. 

The Mainport Cedar is the latest in a string of vessel arrests on allegations of smuggling in the Yemeni conflict. Most previous arrests have been of dhows and fishing vessels, some unflagged, including a fishing boat arrested in September with anti-tank munitions, but Iranian commercial cargo ships have been arrested as well.

The Saudi-led Arab Coalition launched military operations in Yemen in 2015 to prevent the Houthis, whom Riyadh sees as a proxy for its enemy Iran, from taking control of Yemen after they seized much of the north. For their part, the Houthis deny backing from Tehran and accuse the coalition of launching a war of aggression. The Arab Coalition has seized the port of Aden, a significant win, but violence and assassinations remain a daily occurrence there, leading one coalition commander to suggest that Yemen could become like Libya – chaotic, with deeply divided governance – if the war is not decisively won.