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Houthis to allow UN access to ticking time-bomb oil-tanker off of Yemen

PortandTerminal.com, July 12, 2020

An oil tanker stranded off the coast of Yemen ‘threatens environmental disaster four times worse than Exxon Valdez’|Reports say situation deteriorating rapidly

RAS ISA, YEMEN – A stranded tanker loaded with oil off the coast of Yemen is threatening a massive environmental disaster in the Red Sea with experts describing the situation as a “floating bomb”

The SAFER tanker, owned by Yemen’s biggest oil company, has been moored 4 miles off the Yemeni port of Ras Isa, in the north-west of the country, for decades, where it was being used as a floating storage and offloading terminal.

The decaying tanker still contains an estimated 1.1 million barrels of oil and has been moored and left without maintenance since 2015 when the civil war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the government began, according to the United Nations.

The U.N. earlier this week said it was extremely concerned after water entered the engine room of the tanker.

The UN Security Council has previously said the Safer oil tanker could rupture or explode, causing an environmental, economic, and humanitarian catastrophe for Yemen and its neighbours”

Yemen’s Houthi movement has agreed to provide the United Nations access to the stranded oil tanker that risks causing an environmental disaster off the coast of the war-divided country, two U.N. sources familiar with the matter said.

According to Reuters, the United Nations is also discussing with Yemen’s warring parties about arranging the sale of the crude and dividing proceeds between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Houthi group that ousted it from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to hold a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the Safer tanker issue which has been mired in disputes over control of ports and revenues.

Growing urgency as ship deteriorates

Yemeni oil SAFER tanker has been left without maintenance for five years now.  The hull of the vessel, which contains about 1.1 million barrels of crude oil (nearly 150,000 tons), has been deteriorating and one of its pipes has been punctured. This has caused seawater to leak into its engine room and increased the risk of crude oil spill from storage tanks while parties to the conflict continue to show indifference to this serious issue.

Photos of the FSO Safer taken in 2019 show the deterioration in the condition of the abandoned tanker, which has raised fears of an environmental disaster if it should explode or spill the more than one million barrels of oil on board. IR Consilium via AP

Corrosion on the control piping system inside the FSO Safer tanker
Corrosion on the control piping system inside the FSO Safer tanker. IR Consilium via AP

Yemen’s marine and coastal environment would suffer total devastation in the event of an oil spill from SAFER. An oil spill could stretch out from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

The environmental impact of a potential spill from the SAFER has been described by some experts as being “four times worse than the Exxon Valdez” spill in 1989.

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