DUBAI (Reuters) - Officials at Yemen's Red Sea port of Hodeidah said the first ship to dock there in three weeks arrived on Tuesday, carrying desperately needed fuel, as Saudi Arabia denied it was obstructing aid supplies heading for Yemen by sea.
Yemen is suffering what the United Nations has designated as one of its highest-level humanitarian crises but aid efforts have been severely hampered by ongoing fighting and air and sea ports being blocked for long periods.
Hodeidah port officials said that two cargo ships, one carrying wheat and the other timber, were the last vessels to enter the facility about three weeks ago.
The tanker that arrived on Tuesday had been waiting in international waters for two months, they said, adding that nine other vessels were anchored about 60 miles away from the port awaiting permission to enter.
International aid officials say imports to Yemen have slowed to a trickle because of inspections of vessels by a Saudi-led coalition looking for smuggled weapons.
However, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri said there had been no attempts to prevent ships from reaching Hodeidah, adding that six ships had arrived at Hodeidah two days ago and 12 more to the southern port city of Aden, which is controlled by Hadi's government.
"The ships are still operating," Asseri told Reuters.
"We told the crude oil to go to Aden, to the refinery there. But for the rest, the refined fuel, plus the food and humanitarian aid, they can go to Hodeidah. We want this to go to the population. That is where our concern is."
The Saudi-led coalition is fighting to end control of the country by the Iranian-allied Houthi movement, which they view as proxies for non-Arab Iran.
Asseri said ships sent by humanitarian bodies such as the Red Crescent, and the United Nations, are not searched, nor are ships from member countries of the coalition. Only those ships coming from third countries are searched, he added.
He appeared to be referring to a new inspection regime backed by United Nations and announced in September to increase the flow of commercial goods into Yemen.
Shipping sources said that the fuel tanker's cargo of diesel was destined for a flour mill that was forced to close early October due to lack of fuel.
Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Cairo, Jonathan Saul in London and William Maclean in Dubai; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky