An Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen in defiance of US warnings has entered the Gulf of Aden and is expected to reach port on Thursday.
The vessel, the Iran Shahed, is carrying nearly 2,800 tons of aid including flour, rice, canned food, medical supplies and bottled water, all urgently needed in the conflict-wracked and impoverished state.
But the ship’s mission has been overshadowed by US calls for it to head to a UN emergency relief hub in Djibouti instead of docking in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.
With a five-day humanitarian pause in a Saudi-led bombing campaign against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control much of Yemen due to end later on Sunday, the Iranian aid ship has become another bone of contention between Tehran and Riyadh.
A reporter from Tasnim, a news agency associated with Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard reported that the vessel had left Omani waters and was in the Gulf of Aden.
It was under escort by a frigate, the reporter said, but that vessel was a foreign ship that is part of international anti-piracy efforts, the Fars news agency reported.
A Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday that the United States was tracking the Iran Shahed, after an Iranian naval commander told state media that warships might escort it to Yemen.
Passengers on the Iran Shahed include doctors, anti-war activists from the United States, France and Germany, and journalists, according to Tasnim.
The vessel’s captain, Masoud Qazi Mir-Saeed, said that if weather remained fair it should dock in rebel-controlled Hodeida on Thursday.
The Pentagon had urged the ship to divert to Djibouti — where the UN has an aid hub across the narrow strait that separates Yemen from the Horn of Africa — to prove its cargo was humanitarian.
The dispute raised concerns of a potential confrontation between the US and Iran in the vital sea lane which links the Gulf and the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal.
But Iran said Thursday that it had made all the appropriate arrangements for the aid shipment.
“The required coordination has been done with relevant authorities in the UN for docking of the ship carrying Iran’s humanitarian aid for Yemen,” deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.