KHOKHA, Yemen — The first sign of trouble was the helicopter that hovered over the small Yemeni fishing trawler as it cut across the Red Sea. Then a warship appeared, its guns pointed at the boat.
Bullets thumped into the water around the boat, the Afaq, then rippled through its flimsy wooden hull. One fishermen was shot in the eye, another in the head. The engine caught fire. Crew members leapt overboard, including Bashar Qasim, 11.
Moments earlier, the boy had been hauling nets from the stern. Now, he paddled for his life amid the flaming debris and floating corpses, with survivors clinging to empty water drums. As the Afaq sank, he said, the warship stopped firing.
“It circled several times, watching us, to make sure the boat had sunk,” Bashar said. “Then it was gone.”
The stinging criticism of Saudi Arabia’s role in Yemen’s grinding conflict has, for the most part, focused on the air war. Fighter jets with the Saudi-led coalition, armed with American weapons and bombs, have hit weddings, funerals and a school bus. Thousands of civilians have died.
As outrage over the murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul by Saudi operatives fused with concern about Yemen, a wave of disquiet swept Washington amid accusations that the United States military could be complicit in war crimes. Last week, the Senate voted to end American military assistance for the Saudi-led war, in a symbolic yet stinging rebuke to President Trump, who has stood by Saudi Arabia.
But the Yemen war is also unfolding at sea, with even less accountability than on land. There, too, civilians are dying in droves.
The Afaq was one of at least six Yemeni fishing boats hit by warships, helicopters and a fighter jet after leaving the coalition-controlled port of Khokha in the southern Red Sea over six weeks in August and September.
Attacks on Fishing Boats
At least six Yemeni fishing boats were hit in the southern Red Sea in August and September, killing 50 fishermen. Approximate locations are based on reports from survivors.
In interviews, survivors provided harrowing accounts of their ordeal: an attack helicopter that passed overhead six times, spraying them with bullets; fishermen jumping from flaming boats into flaming waters; survivors drifting in the water for days on end, watching helplessly as friends and brothers slipped under the waves.
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