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News: Saudi Arabia ends blockade of Qatar

08 January 2021

In June 2017 Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain commenced a blockade on Qatar by land, air and sea. The decision to sever relationships with Qatar was seen as an attempt to force them to change a number of diplomatic policies, in particular those which allegedly supported terrorist groups in Iran (allegations which have been denied by Qatar).

The blockade restricted port access for ships with a Qatar nexus to and from the quartet of Gulf countries. For example, cargo loaded from ports in Qatar could not be discharged in any of these four countries, and nor could cargo loaded from those ports be discharged in Qatar.  Vessels owned by Qatari companies were also not permitted to call at Saudi Arabi, Egypt, the UAE or Bahrain or vice versa. 
One of the challenges which this created was a practical one for larger vessels. These vessels, which are too large to enter into Qatar's relatively shallow ports, would traditionally call at ports in the UAE and then load the cargo onto smaller feeder vessels intended for Qatar. With this no longer being possible, shipping giants such as Maersk Line and COSCO declared that they would not be able to provide services to Qatar.  The Qatar Ports Management Company advised that companies could route shipments via Oman to bypass the blockade, but uncertainties and practical problems persisted.
However, on Tuesday 5 January 2021 the stand-off appears to have been at least partially resolved. Saudi Arabia has now ended its three year blockade, opening borders with immediate effect. It remains to be seen whether full reconciliation with the other Gulf countries can be reached.​