Adeteriorating massive oil tanker moored off Yemen’s coast loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil is at risk of leaking into waters teeming with marine life.
The Japanese-built floating oil storage vessel Safer, which has a capacity of 3.1 million barrels, has been permanently anchored about 4 miles from the Yemeni Red Sea port of Ras Isa since 1988, according to U.N. News. The International Maritime Organization says it has not been inspected or maintained since 2015.
Loaded with oil pumped from the fields of the Yemeni governorate of Marib, the vessel fell into the hands of Houthi rebels when they took control of that stretch of coastline in March 2015. They asserted claims to the cargo and the vessel. In July 2020, Houthis threatened to blow up the Safer if the port city of Hodeidah fell to the U.N.-recognized legitimate Yemeni government.
According to Ahmed Kulaib, former general manager at Exploration and Production Operation Co., the company that operated the Safer, many of the ship’s systems are rusted or otherwise dysfunctional. For example, it took five days to repair a ruptured pipe that caused seawater to flood the engine room in May 2020.
The Houthis have blocked U.N. experts from inspecting the ship. In June 2021, Reena Ghilani, operations director for the U.N.’s humanitarian office, told the UN Security Council that Houthis have agreed to allow an inspection of the Safer but are “reluctant to provide the concrete assurances needed to proceed.”
Alerting the international community, Al-Hodeidah Deputy Gov. Waleed al-Qudaimi tweeted in December 2021: “there is a leakage from the pipe that feeds the tanker Safer. A disaster will happen in the Red Sea … I call on Red Sea riparian countries led by Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt to take urgent and rapid measures towards this environment disaster.”
With the amount of oil it contains, the Safer could spill four times the amount of oil the Exxon Valdez leaked into Prince William Sound in North America in 1989, experts estimate. Cleanup could cost $20 billion.
Sources: The Guardian, U.N. News, Reuters
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