A huge storage and offloading supertanker containing more than 1.14 million barrels of crude oil is moored seven kilometers from the coastal city of Hodeidah, and has not been visited since Yemen’s civil war broke out in 2015 .

Built in 1976 by the Japanese company Hitachi Zosen, the tanker’s total tonnage and deadweight are 192,679 and 406,640 tons respectively and it is 362 meters long.

In 1988, a Yemeni oil company converted it into a non-propelled storage vessel to export oil from the oil fields in the interior to other countries. Its storage capacity is approx. three million barrels of oil.

In March 2015, the war broke out in Yemen when a Saudi-led coalition began fighting the Houthi rebel group (Ansar Allah), in support of the internationally recognized government. Since, oil production in Yemen has ceasedand the moored tanker, FSO Safer, was neglected.

The Houthi rebels took control of the coastline and its surroundings and prevented all local and international bodies, including a UN-led delegation, from inspecting and repairing the offloading vessel, as the two fighting sides claimed the oil from the tanker.

In October 2019, Holm Akhdar, a Yemeni news platform on local environmental and climate issues, published a detailed report about the FSO Safer and the potential risks that could result from an oil leak.

Following the release of the report, the UN called on the two warring parties to participate in negotiations under its auspices in order to reach an agreement on the tanker.

Mid-2020, the BBC reported that seawater had leaked into the engine room of the tanker, which could lead to an explosion of the vessel. In August of the same year, the UN in an official statement warned that the Safer ship is on the verge of an explosion which would have serious consequences.

A brewing environmental disaster

In a recently published report entitled A time bombGreenpeace stressed that an explosion of the tanker would harm all walks of life and that a leak of any proportion would hamper all shipping processes to the Yemeni ports of Hodeidah and Salif.

And around 68% of humanitarian aid and food supplies would also be suspended, affecting more than 8 million Yemenis who largely depend on this aid to survive.

The report further states that the desalination plants in the cities of Hodeidah and Aden would be affected by a possible oil spill, which would also seriously affect more than 1.7 million people working in the fishing industry.

More than 356 rare types of coral reefs in the Red Sea are likely to be devastated, along with a thousand rare species of fish according to the report.

In addition, the UN has estimated that a spill cleanup operation would cost around US$20 billion and that water pollution would last around 30 years.

Mohammed Al-Hakeemi, editor-in-chief of Holm Akhdar, confirmed in a conversation with FairPlanet that an explosion or oil spill from the tanker would seriously pollute Yemen’s coastal area and cleanup efforts would be hampered by the conditions. disasters facing the country (which would only get worse).

He added that the humanitarian, environmental and economic impacts of an FSO-Safer leak or explosion would affect the livelihoods of millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of people working in the fishing industry.

“The potential oil spill would also affect more than 100,000 beekeepers work in the honey production industry, due to air pollution which can destroy their bee colonies,” Al-Hakeemi added.

Field rescue efforts

In August 2020, a group of prominent Yemeni activists launched a initiative for the salvage of the FSO Safer, and called on the Houthi rebels to allow the UN-led team access to the tanker for inspection and maintenance.

The initiative also called on the authorities to sell the ship’s cargo and use the proceeds to implement humanitarian projects targeting the most vulnerable people in the coastal regions and to resume payment of salaries for employees in the education and medical sectors.

They further called on the international community and the UN to increase pressure on the warring parties to resolve the supertanker crisis.

Afrah Al-zobah, coordinator of the initiative, told FairPlanet that their appeal was the first step in mobilizing local and international efforts to save the tanker Safer and avert disaster.

“This initiative has put pressure on the warring parties to [partake] in constructive engagement with the UN to reach an agreement on the Safer vessel,” she added.

These continuing civil grievances eventually compelled the warring parties to hold negotiations under the auspices of the UN and attempt to reach an agreement. And although the first negotiation sessions failed, a subsequent plan drawn up by the UN to save the tanker was agreed by both parties.

The plan is to purchase an emergency alternative safe floating vessel and then immediately transfer the oil from the Safer to the alternative tanker through a global maritime salvage company.

UN estimates the whole process would cost around US$113 million.

Russell Geekie, senior communications advisor to the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, told FairPlanet that the UN will be able to implement the UN-coordinated plan to prevent a massive spill of FSO Safer. .

“Donors have generously pledged the $75 million needed for the emergency operation to transfer oil from Safer to a safe vessel – Phase 1 of the UN-coordinated plan,” he added.

He went on to say that the preparatory work for the operation has already started, including the contracting processes with the salvage company and the acquisition of the vessel that will contain the oil.

He added that the completion of a detailed operational plan and the acquisition of the vessel are the two main steps that need to be completed before work on the water can begin.

He assured that the UN will be able to provide a schedule of works once the detailed operational plan is completed.

Finally, Geekie expected the salvage company to send a team to Yemen in November to finalize the detailed plan.

Picture by Andrew Svk.


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