Saudi ship on suspected weapons voyage arrives in France

1 / 2
The Bahri Yanbu cargo ship arriving in the French port of Cherbourg, where dozens of activists held a protest over the sale of arms to Riyadh

A Saudi cargo ship on a suspected mission to collect weapons for use in the war in Yemen arrived in the French port of Cherbourg on Thursday.

The Bahri Yanbu arrived at around 5 pm (1600 GMT) in Cherbourg, where dozens of activists held a protest over the sale of arms to Riyadh given its involvement in the brutal Yemeni conflict.

The activists held aloft placards with slogans such as "Stop illegal arms sales" and "War crimes in Yemen - 230,000 lives".

In a statement 19 NGOs and left-wing parties, including Amnesty International and Oxfam France, accused Saudi Arabia of "waging a merciless war on the people of Yemen" and "perpetrating unspeakable atrocities against a defenceless people".

"We cannot accept that the port of Cherbourg be used to serve this conflict, in the name of the interests of arms dealers and their clients," they said.

NGOs had succeeded in preventing the ship from docking in France last May, when it was set to receive a weapons shipment for Riyadh that sparked a similar outcry.

The nearly five-year war in Yemen has claimed tens of thousands of lives, most of them civilians, according to nongovernmental groups.

The UN has classified the conflict as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia intervened in its southern neighbour to support the government against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

NGOs have called on France to identify what will be loaded onto the Bahri Yanbu, which they say has an exclusive contract with the Saudi defence ministry.

If the load is weapons, the NGOs demand "the guarantees France has that they will not be used illegally against Yemeni civilians."

There has been no official comment on the ship from the French government.

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest purchasers of French military equipment.