Ras Al-Ara.. a precious gem that is disrupted by the revenue struggle

English - Saturday 19 November 2022 الساعة 04:19 pm
Al-Mocha, NewsYemen, Investigation Department:

The Directorate of Mudaraba in Lahj Governorate owns a unique coastal strip overlooking the Red Sea, starting from the borders of Bab al-Mandab International Strait.  To the borders of the Directorate of Brega.  Which made it a strategic area that occupies a privileged position in the dictionary of commercial and tourism investment.  This extended coastline consists of coastal villages, coastal fishing centers and a port.  The Khor Amireh marina near Kharaz camp represents a development center, and Ras al-Ara has become the most effective port in recent years for the import and export of services to communities on both sides of the Red Sea, officially or for smuggling.  Its area includes public service centers such as petrol stations, hotels, restaurants, and residential areas.

A study in 2007 prepared by the General Authority of Geological Survey in Yemen said that the Ras Al-Ara area is one of the best areas to settle in, due to its unique features, which made it eligible for the establishment of commercial and tourism projects.

The study confirmed that Ras Al-Ara, with a total area of 7,729 square kilometers, enjoys a strategic location in which the necessary natural and construction resources are available for various forms of human activity, and the possibility of establishing industrial projects in a number of fields in that region.

Despite the studies that reveal the importance of the region and its important strategic location, it was neglected and did not receive the economic projects it deserved, and it remained neglected for many years.

A port for fishing and smuggling

The region owns a small port for the local fishermen of the region, in addition to a fish landing center, which contributed greatly to providing a suitable environment for the sale of marine life caught from the waters of the Red Sea.

On the other hand, the maritime smuggling gangs took advantage of the Al-Sayadin area to transport smuggled goods, including cigarettes, alcohol, harmful pesticides, and materials that do not have any known commercial brands into Yemen.  Most of these contrabands are brought from African countries bordering the Red Sea, via fishing boats, and delivered to the Ras Al-Ara coast.

Over the years before the Houthi war in 2015, the Yemeni Coast Guard forces were able to seize many smuggling boats that were carrying large quantities of smuggled goods coming after their arrival on the coast of the area that connects the two areas of Amran in the capital, Aden, and Dhu Bab in Taiz Governorate.

Huge Houthi exploitation

After the Houthi militia, Iran's arm, took control of the western coast of Yemen, the Ras al-Ara area turned into a major smuggling point under the supervision of prominent Houthi leaders.  Despite the limited smuggling process that was practiced before the war, the period of control of the Houthi militia greatly helped in the growth of the phenomenon and the increase in the quantities of smuggled goods, especially dangerous agricultural pesticides, which are also used in the manufacture of explosives and explosive devices.

At the same time, the militias fought the fishermen of the Ras al-Ara district, exploiting their boats for smuggling, piracy, and threatening international waters near Bab al-Mandab by booby-trapping the boats.  According to the fishermen from the area.

The Houthi militia has turned the fishermen's port into a mini-port in order to develop and supervise smuggling operations, and flood the local market with smuggled and unofficial goods without registered and approved brands.

According to local sources, organized smuggling operations took place in the Ras al-Ara area, including cigarettes, alcohol, weapons, explosives and various ammunition, some of which are linked to terrorist groups in Somalia, including ISIS and the terrorist youth movement, which has a close relationship with the Houthi militia.

The sources indicated that the militias often prevented fishermen from going out to sea and fishing, which is a major source of income, in addition to imposing royalties and levies on them, while smuggling boats arrive in front of everyone's eyes and are not prevented or even confronted.

 After liberation, a new beginning

After the region was liberated in October 2015, by the military forces and the popular resistance backed by the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the smuggling gangs further exploited the security vacuum in the western coast, due to the forces' preoccupation with fighting the Houthi militias that controlled vital areas all the way to Al-Hodeidah Governorate.

Smuggling rates increased dramatically until joint security and military forces were formed in 2019. One of the tasks of those forces was also to secure the coastal strip and to confront smuggling operations that were practicing and serving the Houthi militia.

The port of Ras al-Ara was one of the main areas targeted by the plan to secure the liberated western coastal strip, and those military forces, under the supervision of the Arab coalition, contributed to confronting many smuggling attempts that exploited the Ras al-Ara coast as a safe haven and its main smuggling point.

Also, the re-formation of the Coast Guard forces in the Red Sea sector, with the support of the Coalition, helped a lot in securing the territorial waters in the liberated western coast, and contributed greatly to combating maritime smuggling operations and reducing its activities.

A small commercial port

With the stability witnessed by the coast, the movement returned to normal in the fishing side, in addition to tightening the screws significantly on smuggling operations, which have greatly decreased.  These land and sea security moves by the Coast Guard contributed to helping the local authorities in the Lahj governorate and the Ras al-Ara district to establish a mini-port for boats and small ships that carry and transport goods between African countries and Yemen.

The sea port witnessed a remarkable commercial growth, and it received almost daily small ships importing or exporting goods to and from Yemen, and this helped a lot in achieving an economic recovery for the region and its population.

sudden turn

 In March 2020, forces called the Joint Forces were established, led by the Second Giants Brigade, led by Colonel Hamdi Shukri, who is stationed in Mocha and most of its members belong to the Tur al-Baha and Mudarabah tribes, in addition to the security of the governorate.  The same strip, as the forces of the so-called Shield of the Nation Brigades are currently deployed in the vicinity of Khor Amira, which are Salafist brigades that were established with Saudi support in preparation for wars to liberate what remained of Yemen under Houthi control.

On the other hand, the governor of Lahj Governorate, Major General Ahmed Abdullah Turki, issued a new assignment to the commander of the security belt in Sabiha, Brigadier General Waddah Omar, in late August 2021, assigning him a new commander for the anti-smuggling forces.

The forces assumed responsibility for securing the Ras al-Ara port, in addition to carrying out intensive campaigns to strike the smuggling lines along the coastal strip in the region and the adjacent coastal areas.

Under the supervision of the director of the Mudaraba Directorate, the port began to become active and undertake financing development operations within the directorate’s share of its revenues, until tribes in the directorate accused the director of covering up the murder of one of their sons, who belonged to the director’s tribe, all of which are Subahi tribes.  The port's contribution to local development was disrupted, and the door to conflicts and accusations about its revenues was opened.

Mutual accusations

The situation in the Ras al-Ara region remained vague, especially with regard to the revenues that were obtained from the commercial port, and accusations were leveled against the local authorities in the district, the successive security and military forces there, and the governor of Lahj with seizing millions of riyals from the anti-smuggling share in Ras al-Ara.

The commander of the anti-smuggling forces in the Al-Ara coast, who himself is the commander of the security belt, “Brigadier General Waddah Omar,” released a video clip in mid-June 2022 in which he said that the governor had embezzled 100 million Yemeni riyals that were from the anti-smuggling share.  Omar pointed out that there are 50 million Yemeni riyals that were looted by the Turkish governor last Ramadan.

The governor responded by accusing the security official of obtaining 200 million riyals from the revenues of Ras al-Ara port, and the governor's office published a number of vouchers and supplied the amount.  As he claimed.

After days of exchanging accusations, specifically in August 2022, the governor of Lahj, Ahmed Turki, hurried to convene an expanded meeting of a number of local leaders in order to approve the formation of a committee to prepare a study on activating a practical mechanism to collect the revenues of the customs port and taxes of the Lahj seaport in the Ras al-Ara area.

During the meeting, the governor stressed “the speedy processing of the study, and the status of the categories of commercial materials and goods imported through the port and the legal fees approved for them, in a way that preserves the state’s financial dues and supplies them to its public treasury.”

The meeting stressed that organizing the work of collecting revenues at the port through legal means will prevent smuggling of various goods.

Serious moves

The imbalances that occurred at the Ras al-Ara crossing prompted the government and the Presidential Council to intervene in order to stop the imbalances and the loss of revenues that come from it.  Where a ministerial committee was formed, according to the directives of the member of the Presidential Leadership Council and head of the Resources Committee, Aidaroos Al-Zubaidi, to ensure the state’s supervision of all port activities in the liberated areas.  In accordance with the applicable financial, customs and security systems.

At the beginning of last September, the committee composed of the Ministries of Transport, Finance, Interior, and the local authority in Lahj Governorate decided to go to the port and submit a detailed report on the basic needs to develop its work, in preparation for handing it over to the Yemeni government.

It also approved the continuation of the local authority in Lahj governorate with direct supervision of the Ras Al-Ara crossing.

Last October, the committee, headed by the Minister of Transport, Abd al-Salam Hamid, recommended the approval and establishment of an official customs center at the Ras al-Ara sea port in Lahj Governorate, and correcting the status of the port and conducting its activities, provided that this matter be submitted to the Council of Ministers and the Presidential Council, in preparation for issuing a decision to approve the port.  Currently a customs center, as a first stage. 

It also warned against attempting to attack or seize the Ras Al-Ara crossing and the lands adjacent to it, as it is a sanctuary for the port, stressing that it will take all necessary legal measures to stop any attacks or violations at the site.

The committee also recommended that, in the future, the government adopt a decision to convert the port into a major sea port within the Yemeni ports.  This is due to the technical characteristics of the site that qualify it to be a major port for receiving goods. 

High tension

And with the continuous governmental and ministerial moves regarding the upcoming port in Ras al-Ara, there were other threads and contradictory movements initiated by the governor of Lahj, who issued a decision at the end of last October to change the Director General of the Directorate of Mudaraba and Ras al-Ara, Colonel Muhammad al-Sini, who is one of the leaders loyal to the Southern Transitional Council, and appoint in his place  Military leader Murad Jobeh.

The local authority in Lahj governorate justified through semi-official statements that the reason for the dismissal was to quell the tribal protests that threatened to stop the port's revenues due to the killing of a citizen by a relative of the former director in the area due to the conflict over lands close to the upcoming port plan.

Despite the justifications published by sources close to the local authority in the province, the decision to dismiss the Chinese colonel was rejected by the Transitional Council.  Especially since the dismissal decision coincided with the movements of “Issam Hazaa,” who is one of the personalities belonging to Al-Sabiha, and lived conflicts with various parties in the south, up to Al-Mokha, who was accused of trying to provoke its children by claiming to obtain official permits by laying on land there under the pretext of building a residential city, and he is accused of  Land disputes within Aden and Lahj.  The man appeared in Ras al-Ara saying that he would undertake the construction of the port from his capital, and he would take over the site of the port and work on its expansion and development.  With the help and support of the local authority in the governorate.

Investor Essam Hazaa Al-Subaihi and the governor of Lahj moved, which was rejected by the government, considering the ports as a governmental matter under the supervision of the Ministry of Transport. In early November, the Transitional Council issued a statement calling for the establishment of a new committee to stop any works or developments.

and escalating conflict

Despite the ambiguity surrounding the process of distributing revenues during the past years, the Directorate entered into a large administrative vacuum, which was met by military and tribal tension between supporters and opponents of the parties currently conflicting over the development of the port and the authority authorized to do so.

A member of the local council in the district, Ali al-Nimr, told NewsYemen that the project to build Ras al-Ara port must be sponsored by the state, and everyone knows that ports are sovereign facilities, and no one has the right to take the place of the state.  There are specialized companies to build this height, depth and length, whether through local, regional or international companies.

He added, there are safe ways to invest known to avoid many obstacles and difficulties for the investor and give him guarantees to save his money, and the investor has duties that he must abide by as legislated by law and not bullying, bribery and buying off officials and corrupt people.

He noted that the fictitious investment may lead to the Directorate getting out of control and the intervention of parties on standby, such as drug and arms dealers, money laundering and other matters.

The investor responds 

A statement issued by businessman Hazaa Al-Subaihi, commenting on the events that took place and stopping his work in updating the development of the new commercial site.  He said that there is a deliberate intention by the state to marginalize the region and fight the aspect of investment and put it outside the framework of the state.  As described.

And Hazaa continued, in his statement, out of our interest in infrastructure and sustainable development and from the freedom of our money, as well as with the help of some responsible authorities and personalities that have weight at the national level in general and the people of Al-Sabiha in particular, we conducted a full study in which experts from outside and inside the country participated in the expansion of Ras Al-Ara port.

He added: We appealed from the beginning to the responsible authorities to do their duty alongside us to implement the Ras Al-Ara port project, but there is clear disregard and fighting for what we are doing for the sake of our regions and our country in general.

In his statement, the investor, Al-Subaihi, stated that he had recently met with leaders in the Transitional Council to agree on this, but he was surprised by the decision of the Minister of Transport, Abdel Salam Hamid, to direct him to stop the Ras Al-Ara port project.

At the end of his statement, he called on the member of the Presidential Leadership Council - President of the Southern Transitional Council, Major General Aidaroos Al-Zubaidi, to reconsider the directives of the Minister of Transport and put an end to what he called the systematic disruption of any interests that would alleviate the burden of citizens in the districts of Al-Sabiha and Al-Watan.