AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s government has urged the UN Security Council to intervene to prevent a derelict tanker from leaking more than a million barrels of oil into the Red Sea.
The FSO Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. The vessel fell into the hands of Iran-backed Houthi militias in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around the port city of Hodeidah.
The Houthis have refused for more than 5 years to allow international engineers to board the Safer to carry out essential repairs, and as the vessel’s condition deteriorates there are fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out.
An oil leak from the Safer’s tanks would be “one of the biggest environmental disasters in the region and the world,” Yemen’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Al-Hadrami told Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s permanent representative at the UN and president of the Security Council.
The Houthis have rejected all independent international requests to board the vessel, including the latest one from the UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths, who demanded access for an international technical team.
Anwar Al-Ameri, head of the government oil company in Hodeidah, said an oil spill from the Safer would be more destructive to the environment than the damage caused by the oil tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. “A looming environmental disaster is awaiting the Red Sea countries if the oil tanker Safer is destroyed,” Al-Ameri said.
Michael Aron, UK ambassador to Yemen, has also warned of a potential catastrophe. “The threat to the environment in the Red Sea is enormous, and will impact on all the countries who share this coastline,” he said.
“We urgently need to allow UN experts to board the craft, assess its condition and take the necessary steps to secure the vessel and prevent the oil from leaking.”
Yemeni activists, politicians and government officials have launched a campaign on social media aimed at focusing attention on the derelict vessel and pressing the international community to act quickly to safe Yemen from disaster.
Mohammed Al-Omada, head of the Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms, said the Houthis were using the vessel to blackmail the legitimate government into offering concessions in peace talks brokered by the UN Yemen envoy, and to enable them to sell the vessel’s oil.
“We call on the international community to take swift and urgent measures to prevent this serious environmental catastrophe from happening,” he said.