May 21, 2015 / 5:09 PM / in 3 years

Iran aid ship reaches Djibouti waters, waits to enter port: activist

LONDON (Reuters) - An Iranian aid ship has reached the outskirts of Djibouti’s port and is waiting for a permit to enter after Tehran agreed to an international inspection of the vessel with goods for Yemen, an activist on board said on Thursday.

The Iran Shahed vessel, carrying 2,500 tonnes of food and medical supplies, was previously bound for the Yemeni port of Hodaida before Iran agreed on Wednesday to allow the international inspection.

“We have arrived outside the port of Djibouti and are waiting for permission to enter,” the activist, Christoph Horstel, told Reuters. “We are being told right now the permit will take three to four hours to get.”

The move reduces the risk of a potential showdown between the vessel and Saudi-led forces enforcing inspections on vessels entering Yemeni ports to prevent arms supplies from reaching the Iran-allied Houthi rebels they have been fighting.

Horstel said once the vessel received permission, a ship pilot would need to guide it into the port from the anchorage, which is within Djibouti’s territorial waters.

“I spoke to the coordinator of the ship and he said it is sure we will dock in the port,” he said.

The voyage had threatened to escalate a regional confrontation over Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Muslim allies have carried out almost two months of air raids on Houthi fighters it says are armed by Shi‘ite power Iran. Tehran dismisses the allegation.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, was quoted as saying on Wednesday the decision to send the ship to Djibouti was “so the United Nations inspection protocol can take place”.

Global intelligence firm Stratfor said in a note on Thursday: “The Saudis, for their part, will not have to choose between intercepting the vessel and maintaining the legitimacy of their naval blockade on Yemen, since the Iran Shahed will have been inspected by a neutral party.”

Editing by Alison Williams

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