Decaying oil tanker risks provoking Red Sea environment disaster

James Cleverly, Britain’s Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa stated: “The Houthis cannot continue to hold the environment and people’s livelihoods to ransom.”
Wednesday 29/07/2020
A view of the deck of the FSO Safer, moored off Ras Issa port, Yemen.  (AP)
A view of the deck of the FSO Safer, moored off Ras Issa port, Yemen. (AP)

LONDON – Inger Andersen, UN Environment Programme Chief warned that if the decaying oil tanker FSO Safer, off the coast of Yemen, were to suffer an oil spill, the damage would last for decades, wrecking livelihoods and ecosystems.

Moored off the coast in western Yemen, the 45 year old tanker has not been maintained for over five years with the Iran-backed Houthis preventing an solution to the problem.

“Prevention of such a crisis from precipitating is really the only option. Despite the difficult operational context, no effort should be spared to first conduct a technical assessment and initial light repairs”, she warned.

An “environmental catastrophe” is what  Mark Lowcock, chief of UN humanitarian affairs, believes will happen were the  1.14 million barrels of crude oil on the tanker were to spill into the Red Sea, which it is currently at risk of doing so.

In order to assess the current condition of the tanker, provide recommendations for extracting the oil safely and conducting any of the possible urgent repairs, the UN wishes to be provided access for a mission to the tanker. The proclaimed readiness by Iran-backed Houthi rebels to provide the UN with access to the tanker, was met with scepticism by Lockcock who recalled how in August, a similar offer was made but was cancelled by the Houthis at late notice.

Were a spill from the Safer to occur, it would be four times greater than the 1989 Exxon Valdez Disaster, which spilled 257,000 barrels of oil and resulting damage still existing today.

Were there to be a spill on this scale, the Red Sea marine environment, home to over 1,200 species of fish, would suffer unprecedented damage.

Livelihoods would also be devastated, with nearly 4 million people suffering, and the recovery of fish stocks taking an estimated 25 years.

Estimated cleaning costs are $20, and would close up the port of Hodeidah upwards of six months, which serves as Yemen’s main gateway for humanitarian aid.

James Cleverly, Britain’s Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa stated “The FSO Safer oil tanker is an environmental disaster waiting to happen and unless UN experts are allowed to access it, we are facing a catastrophic environmental threat”

“The Houthis cannot continue to hold the environment and people’s livelihoods to ransom. It is in everyone’s interests, especially the suffering people of Yemen, that this tanker is made safe immediately.”

“We will continue to use our seat on the UN Security Council to do all we can to stand up for and protect the Yemeni people.”

Not only is Yemen currently suffering the largest humanitarian crisis globally, with 80% of the population in need of assistance, Covid-19’s spread has only added to the woes suffered. UK-funded modelling estimates that over 1 million of Yemen’s population is infected.