Disaster warning over ‘ticking time bomb’ Yemen tanker

The ship 'Safer,' used as a floating storage platform, is laden with some 1.1 million barrels of crude oil. (Twitter/@Yemen_PM)
Updated 28 August 2019
0

Disaster warning over ‘ticking time bomb’ Yemen tanker

  • The ship 'Safer' is laden with some 1.1 million barrels of crude oil
  • Houthi militants have blocked teams from reaching the ship to assess the damage

DUBAI: An abandoned oil tanker anchored off war-torn Yemen that is degrading along with its cargo could explode and cause an environmental disaster, experts said Wednesday as UN inspectors prepared to visit.
The ship “Safer,” used as a floating storage platform, is laden with some 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and has been stranded with no maintenance since early 2015, leaving it to deteriorate and potentially allowing explosive gases to build up.
United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday that a technical assessment team was waiting in nearby Djibouti preparing to board the Safer for a first-hand evaluation.
“We expect the assessment to start either later this week or early next week. There are obviously some technical preparations that need to be made,” he told reporters in New York.
The UN team’s visit has been delayed for months as the Houthi rebels who control Ras Issa port, where the ship is anchored, had refused to allow the mission in a dispute over claims for revenues from the oil worth millions.
But Dujarric said the United Nations has obtained permission from both Yemen’s internationally-recognized government and the rebels to examine the vessel.
The structure of the tanker has had no maintenance at all since the Yemen war started, he said.
Dujarric warned that an “environmental catastrophe” could result “if something were to happen to the tanker.”
The aim of the mission is to evaluate the condition of the vessel, perform an initial basic maintenance and assess what could be done technically to strengthen the ship’s structure.
The CEO of global maritime consultants I.R. Consilium described the situation as extremely alarming and characterised the ship as a ticking time bomb.
“The situation is serious and this matter will unfold into a crisis if urgent, decisive and effective action is not taken,” Ian Ralby told AFP.
A report issued by Consilium said the vessel “has turned into a massive bomb capable of explosion due to its contents and lack of maintenance.”
The risk of explosion increased by the day and if it happened, “it would create an environmental crisis four and a half times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” it said.
The report was referring to the 1989 disaster when a tanker spilt some 260,000 barrels of oil into pristine Alaskan waters.
The United Nations has warned that if the Safer ruptures, it could block maritime trade through the Red Sea, which accounts for up to 10 percent of world trade.
It could also threaten the daily passage of some 5.5 million barrels of oil, contaminate drinking water and damage the marine environment across the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and parts of Gulf waters.
The head of Kuwait’s Greenline Environmental Group, a private NGO, warned that any catastrophe would likely hit waters of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Djibouti, Somalia and Eritrea.
“The environmental system of the Red Sea is at risk of catastrophe if the oil leaks into the sea... It would lead to a large-scale death of fish and birds,” Khaled Al-Hajjeri told AFP.


Erdogan says 3 million refugees could be returned to Syria safe zone

Updated 18 September 2019

Erdogan says 3 million refugees could be returned to Syria safe zone

  • Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, the highest number in the world
  • Working with the US, Turkish forces are seeking to clear a swathe of northern Syria

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip said Wednesday that up to three million Syrian refugees could be returned to a “safe zone” it is seeking to establish in northern Syria.
Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees — the highest number in the world — and there have been signs of a public backlash over their presence after eight long years of war in its neighbor to the south.
Working with the United States, Turkish forces are seeking to clear a swathe of northern Syria, in part to push Kurdish rebels away from its border but also to facilitate the return of refugees.
If successful, “we will be able to house, depending on the depth of the safe zone, between two and three million Syrian refugees that are currently in Turkey and Europe,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
Erdogan said earlier this week that he envisions the “peace corridor” as stretching right across northern Syria all the way to Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa — which he said would allow even more than three million to return.
He called for “much greater support” from Europe in realizing the plan.
For Turkey, a key priority is curbing the influence of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it sees as an off-shoot of the Kurdish separatists in its own territory.
On Wednesday, Erdogan repeated his threat to launch military attacks against the Kurds if they are not pushed back from the Turkish border by the end of the month.
“As we’ve said, if we don’t see results in the next two weeks, we will activate our plan,” he said.
But the YPG is firmly established in northern Syria and has been a crucial ally of the United States in fighting the Daesh group, creating a tricky balancing act for Washington.
Ankara says US promises to push the YPG back from the Turkish border have so far been “cosmetic.”
Turkey has twice launched unilateral operations into Syria against the YPG and Daesh group, in 2016 and 2018.