Lawyers from Leigh Day, representing Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), have written to the Government Legal Department seeking clarification as to the licence under which a Saudi vessel will be allowed to enter and subsequently leave the UK following its expected arrival today.
The Bahri Yanbu ship was scheduled to arrive in Tilbury, England. It is currently anchored off the coast. Campaigners fear it could be loaded with military equipment for Saudi Arabia. The ship owners have acknowledged that it is carrying military equipment. The ship is owned by the Bahri company, the national shipping company of Saudi Arabia, and is the 'exclusive logistics provider' for the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Defence.
The letter from Leigh Day, published below, argues that any controlled goods on the ship must require a licence from the UK, and is seeking clarification from the government that any such licence is consistent with a Court of Appeal ruling from June 2019 against arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.
In June 2019, following a legal action taken by CAAT, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government acted unlawfully when it licensed the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen without making an assessment as to whether or not past incidents amounted to breaches of International Humanitarian Law. The Government was ordered not to approve any new licences and to retake the decisions on extant licences in a lawful manner.
The ship has already visited ports in the USA and Canada. It is now in Europe; on Monday it left Bremerhaven to head to the UK. It will also be visiting France and Italy before travelling on to the Middle East. It was meant to stop at Antwerp, but was stopped following protests. It is also expected to be met with protests in France and Italy.
This morning, a group of CAAT supporters protested outside Tilbury port.
According to Amnesty International, on its previous voyage visiting multiple European ports in May 2019, the Bahri Yanbu was carrying US $47 million worth of US-manufactured military components and equipment, much of it linked to military aircraft.
Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £5.3 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime, including:
- £2.7 billion worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
- £2.5 billion worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
In reality the figures are likely to be a great deal higher, with most bombs and missiles being licensed via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: "Any weapons being transported by this ship could be used in human rights abuses in Yemen and beyond: it should not be allowed to use UK ports. Arms-dealing governments like the one in the UK have played a central role in strengthening the Saudi dictatorship and fuelling the bombing of Yemen. If they want to do the right thing for people in Yemen then they must end all arms exports to the Saudi regime and cease all support for this awful war."
The full letter text follows:
Re: Campaign Against Arms Trade
Licences for the Sale or Transfer of Arms or Military Equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
We write in connection with the transit and/or transhipment of arms or military equipment from ports in the United Kingdom to end users in Saudi Arabia for possible use in Yemen.
By virtue of the Court of Appeal's order of 20 June 2019, ("the CA Order"), the Secretary of State undertook "not to grant any new licences for the export of arms or military equipment to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen until he has either retaken the decisions specified in paragraph 3 of the Court of Appeal's order or applied for a stay of execution and a stay been granted. No decision has yet been retaken and no stay has been granted.
Subsequently, on 5 December 2019 the Department for International Trade's issued 'Notice to Exporters 2019/16: open general licences updated' ("the Notice"), following certain breaches identified in respect of the undertaking your client gave to the Court.The Notice states that:
"Until further notice, it will not be possible to register for a number of OGELS and OGTCLs for exports and brokering to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Sudan and United Arab Emirates…"
It has been brought to our client's attention that a Saudi Arabian cargo vessel, the MV Bahri Yanbu, is scheduled to arrive in the UK in or around today - 5 February 2020. Our client has reason to believe that this ship may be carrying arms and military equipment destined for Saudi Arabia.
As you are aware, the National Consolidated EU and National Arms Export licensing Criteria, revised on 25th March 2014, make it clear that both the transit and transhipment of goods are included within the remit of UK strategic export controls and the application of the criteria, as a form of 'export'. Any controlled good on board this or other vessels require a licence.
Please confirm, as a matter of urgency:
1. Under which licence this vessel will be allowed to enter and leave the UK customs zone with its shipment of controlled goods; and
2. Whether, and why, the government regards the shipment of any controlled goods on board the MV Bahri Yanbu, designed for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for possible use in Yemen, consistent with the CA Order and, in particular, the prohibition imposed on the granting of any new licence for the export of military equipment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for possible use in Yemen.
3. Whether that licence is included in the list of OGELS and OGTCLs referred to in the Notice.
Please also provide us with a copy of any relevant policies related to such licences.
We look forward to your response by return and in any event within 24 hours.