(Repeats story published late on Friday)
* Dubai market one of Yemen's few lifelines
* Import-dependent nation on brink of famine
* Wooden dhows ply centuries-old trade route
* Shipping graphic: tmsnrt.rs/2mzwp4z
By Maha El Dahan and Michael Georgy
SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates, March 24 Captains
of small wooden dhows are carrying food and wares from the
United Arab Emirates to war-torn Yemen. But supplies are falling
even from this centuries-old Arabian sea route that is one of
the last lifelines to a country on the brink of famine.
A two-year-old civil war has severely restricted the flow of
food into the main Yemeni cargo ports of Hodeidah and Salif on
the Red Sea, where all the large grain silos are located.
The small wooden boats sailing from souks in the UAE are
moving small but vital supplies by making for the smaller ports
to the south coast that are of little use to larger vessels -
and often sidestepping military inspections that choke traffic
by dropping anchor at secluded coves nearby.
The deals originate in the sprawling Al Ras Market, a
collection of dusty alleyways near the Dubai Creek where an
array of food and spices are on display including colourful
sacks of Pakistani and Indian rice.
The dhows - plying the ancient trade route that once carried
the likes of pearls, frankincense and myrrh - supply 14,000 to
18,000 tonnes of foodstuffs a month to Yemen, according to
traders. That represents a drop of about 30-40 percent over the
past year because of problems with payment, as well as adverse
"The Yemeni currency is destroyed, sometimes we can't get
paid enough. We can only go once a month because the seas are
too rough," said trader Mohammed Hassan, at a docking station at
nearby Port Khaled in Sharjah
"Sometimes we have to wait 40 days."
The volumes of food carried on this route represent a small
fraction of the supply to Yemen, which relies on imports for 90
percent of its food. But it has become increasingly important as
fighting has raged, the economy has collapsed and Yemen has
needed all the help it can get.
Thousands of people have been killed in the civil war pits
the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Saudi-backed coalition -
which includes the UAE - fighting to restore the government of
President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The conflict has choked imports. Sixty percent of Yemenis,
or 17 million people, are in "crisis" or "emergency" food
situations, according to the United Nations.
While vessels seeking access to Houthi-held areas must face
inspections for smuggled weapons, the government-controlled
south has less restrictions.
Food imports into Hodeidah have fallen relentlessly, with
only a few ships arriving each week - compared with dozens
before the war - and more shipping lines pulling out due to the
growing risks, according to aid and shipping sources.
In recent weeks damage to infrastructure in the neighbouring
port of Salif has also cut food deliveries, aid officials said.
"The country is living on its reserves," said Robert
Mardini, International Committee of the Red Cross regional
director for the Near and Middle East in Geneva this week.
"There is a lack of liquidity, no payment of salaries, which
means that the spending power has collapsed and that the price
of food is soaring whenever it is available."
UAE-based dhow captains avoid these snarl-ups by steering
clear of the big Red Sea ports and instead ply their trade to
the south, often docking at informal inlets.
The average journey takes about five to eight days, with the
boats capable of taking up to 2,000 tonnes of goods, still small
fry compared with cargo ships that could provide more relief to
one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world.
Trader Ali Mahdani ships his goods out of Dubai to the
southern Yemeni ports of Aden, Mukalla or Mokha, goods worth 4-6
million UAE dirhams ($1.1-1.6 million) per month, around 2,000
tonnes of mostly rice, spices or cooking oil. To avoid payments
in the battered Yemeni currency he gets paid in Saudi riyals.
There are few issues upon arrival. That’s a sharp contrast
the scrutiny that any vessels hoping to access the north would
be subjected to as the Saudi-led coalition search for weapons
which may be headed into Houthi hands.
"You may have to pay thugs every once in a while but
otherwise it is all good to go," said Mahdani, dressed in a
flowing white robe.
Trader Amin Baghersh ships powered milk, tomato paste, sugar
and rice from Al Ras to Yemen, selling about one million UAE
dirhams worth per month.
He and others rely on hawala, an informal trading system
through exchange houses based on trust and personal ties.
Most of his goods make their way to Mukalla and Aden and
surrounding areas. But he, like others, has taken a heavy hit
from the Yemeni currency crisis and payment problems caused by
An Iranian trader had similar complaints.
"I used to transfer about 2,000 tonnes of food a month,"
said the trader, who declined to give his name. "In the last
three or four months people asked me for supplies but I am
reluctant to deal with them."
($1 = 3.6724 UAE dirham)
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London and Stephanie
Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Pravin Char)