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Houthis ask for help to prevent massive oil spill and environmental disaster

PortandTerminal.com, December 17, 2019

A stranded tanker loaded with oil off the coast of Yemen is threatening a massive environmental disaster in the Red Sea. Experts describe the situation as a “floating bomb”.

RAS ISA, YEMEN – How often do you hear about armed Middle Eastern rebels asking for help to prevent an environmental catastrophe? Never until now.

Houthis rebels in Yemen are asking for international assistance in preventing a decaying oil tanker from causing a major environmental disaster in the Red Sea, Al Jazeera reports.

The Safer FSO is floating north of Hodeidah and is believed to be loaded with over 1 million barrels of crude oil. Based on the latest reports, the deserted oil tanker has started leaking oil into the Red Sea.

READ: Yemeni oil tanker ‘threatens environmental disaster four times worse than Exxon Valdez’

The Safer FSO tanker at sea with mountains in the background
The Safer FSO is believed to be loaded with over 1 million barrels of crude oil, is starting leak and has been described by experts as a floating “bomb”

There is a concern that the dilapidated tanker might rapture causing a massive explosion and oil spill into the Gulf of Aden causing an environmental catastrophe on a scale even larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Here’s what the Atlantic Council has to say about what the potential of the disaster looks like:

Such an incident could have a far-reaching and highly destructive range of effects: desalinization plants contaminated, depriving tens of millions of people, some already on the brink of famine, of access to clean drinking water; the loss of marine ecosystems that may be the key to saving the rest of the world’s coral from warming seas; millions of desperate Yemenis literally starved for international aid because port facilities are unusable; tangible impact on the global economy from the temporary closure of Red Sea shipping lanes; armed conflict over basic necessities; and a downward spiral in an already fragile region. Those are all possible consequences of a million-barrel oil spill in the Red Sea.

Atlantic Council, July 28, 2019

Specifically, since the conflict broke out the ship was not maintained and its boilers have stopped producing inert gas, which is used to reduce the risk of explosion of gases released from the oil in FSOs and tankers.

As such it is believed the tanks inside the vessel contain a considerable amount of explosive gases. Experts describing the situation call the vessel a “floating bomb”.

The plea comes after Houthi rebels refused access to the tanker to the United Nations’ inspectors to assess the state of the deserted vessel, described as a “ticking bomb”. The tanker has been used as a bargaining chip for over a year between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition.

Houthi representatives say that the Saudi-led coalition had prevented them from unloading the tanker, thus reducing the danger from its explosion, which was guaranteed under the Stockholm agreement reached in December 2018 and pay salaries to the public sector. Under the deal, the parties agreed to remove military forces from the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa, allowing for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the impoverished Yemeni people.

The vessel was once used as floating storage and offloading terminal (FSO) for vessels loading crude oil from a nearby Marib-Ras Isa pipeline. It has been moored 7km off the Ras Isa port since 1988 and fell under Houthi control in 2015 after the Houthi forces captured the port. The port is close to one of Yemen’s marine protected areas, home to mangroves and coral reefs.

Special Envoys of the UN have been calling for access to the Safer for over a year, to inspect the state of the vessel and avert a possible environmental disaster, which would jeopardize the survival and livelihoods of those living in the surrounding areas.

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