Why Do Yemenis Oppose an Agreement With an Emirati Company to Run the Port of Aden?

Sheba Intelligence | 2024-06-26 05:36 PM UTC


A plan is being pursued by the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the Abu Dhabi Ports Group to run the Port of Aden jointly.

The head of the STC, Aidrous Al-Zubaidi, issued a letter dated June 12, 2024, to Yemen's prime minister, stating that a committee is discussing the "collective investment" by the Abu Dhabi Ports Group and the Aden Ports Corporation. The letter revealed that the two sides were close to signing the final agreement.

The revelation of such a plan has sparked widespread anger and rejection in Yemen. Government officials, parliamentarians, activists, and civilians have opposed such an agreement.

Members of the Yemeni Shura Council warned against leasing the port of Aden to an Emirati company, holding the Presidential Leadership Council and the government fully responsible.

Twenty-five members of the Shura Council affirmed their "strong objection and categorical refusal to sign any agreement with the Abu Dhabi Ports Group related to the port of Aden under any pretext or justification."

The Shura Council members said that the port of Aden is considered "the most important pillar of our national economy and our country's sovereignty."

The Port of Aden has been a target for many countries for decades, given its strategic location in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea. The port is one of the largest natural harbors in the world.


The past failure of Dubai Ports World in Aden

It is not the first time an Emirati company has sought to run the Port of Aden. The Dubai Ports World began operating the Port of Aden in November 2008 after reaching an agreement with the concerned authorities in Yemen at the time.

While the Dubai Ports World was expected to contribute to strengthening the Port of Aden at different levels, the opposite happened. The number of arriving and departing ships declined, the needed equipment for the port operations was not maintained, and investment in expanding the port was absent, according to a ten-page report obtained by Sheba Intelligence.

The report indicated that the Dubai Ports World was the sole operator of the Port of Aden and was responsible for all the marketing, management, and operational aspects.

When the Dubai Ports World and the Yemeni authorities in Aden signed the contract, improving the Port of Aden's infrastructure and equipment was a priority.

 Among the items mentioned in the agreement are the expansion of the ship berth to 400 meters, the purchase of new equipment, particularly cranes, and the maintenance of the old equipment. However, nothing was achieved.

The report indicated that Dubai Ports World did not follow any marketing strategy to attract more shipping lines. Moreover, the Port of Aden lost two shipping lines in  2009 and one more in 2010.

The strategy of the Emirati company not only led to the deterioration of the Port of Aden but also affected the prices of goods in Yemen. According to the report, Dubai Ports World raised the container handling fees in order to make a fast profit. That, in turn, affected the local consumers. 

Though the Dubai Ports World is an international company with a strong performance in its field, it did not work to implement visions that seek to serve the future of the Port of Aden. Instead, according to the report, the Dubai Ports World worked to implement its headquarters' visions and agenda.

The breakout of the 2011 uprising in Yemen led to the regime's fall. Consequently, the new Yemeni leadership asked the Emirati company to amend the Aden port leasing agreement or cancel it, describing it as "unfair to Yemen."

Subsequently, the Board of Directors of the Gulf of Aden Ports Corporation decided to cancel the agreement related to leasing the Port of Aden to DP World.

When the civil war broke out in 2015, a Saudi-UAE-led military coalition was formed in support of the Yemeni government. Foreign Emirati forces, including the UAE's, were deployed in Aden to fight the Houthi group. It was an opportunity for the UAE to keep its influence on the Port of Aden.

Today, the return of another Emirati company to operate the Port of Aden is still being negotiated, and it may materialize in the coming months. Observers say that the Emirati presence in several regional ports, including the Port of Aden, is part of the UAE's strategy to weaken them for the sake of the Dubai ports.