Houthis back down over access to ‘ticking timebomb’ Red Sea tanker

Critics say the Houthis have been using the Safer to blackmail Yemen’s legitimate government into offering concessions in peace talks brokered by the UN and to enable them to sell the vessel’s oil. (AP)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Houthis back down over access to ‘ticking timebomb’ Red Sea tanker

  • UN technical team set to board stricken vessel to avert environmental disaster from 1.4m-barrel oil spill

JEDDAH: Houthi militias in Yemen finally backed down on Sunday over access to a stricken oil storage vessel to prevent it from leaking more than a million barrels of crude into the Red Sea.

Engineers from a UN inspection team are now expected to board the FSO Safer in the next few days to assess the vessel’s condition and carry out emergency repairs.

The 45-year-old Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It is stationary, with no engine or means of propulsion. The vessel fell into the hands of the Iran-backed Houthis in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around the port city of Hodeidah.

The militants 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. A breach would have disastrous results for Red Sea marine life and tens of thousands of people who depend on fishing for their livelihood.

Apart from corrosion, essential work on reducing explosive gases in the storage tanks has been neglected for years. The Yemen government has warned the Safer could explode and cause “the largest environmental disaster, regionally and globally.”

FASTFACTS

  • The 45-year-old Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988.
  • It is stationary, with no engine or means of propulsion.
  • The Yemen government has warned the Safer could explode and cause a regional and global environmental disaster.

 The latest problem came in May with a leak in a cooling pipe. “The pipe burst, sending water into the engine room and creating a really dangerous situation,” said Ian Ralby, chief executive of the maritime consultancy IR Consilium.

If the vessel ruptures, “you’re going to have two catastrophes,” said Lise Grande, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen.

 “There’s going to be an environmental catastrophe that’s bigger than almost any other similar kind ... and it’s going to be a humanitarian catastrophe because that oil will make the port of Hodeidah unusable.”

Critics say the Houthis have been using the Safer to blackmail Yemen’s legitimate government into offering concessions in peace talks brokered by the UN and to enable them to sell the vessel’s oil. Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed wants the proceeds from selling the oil to be spent on health care and humanitarian aid.

Crude stored in the Safer’s tanks is worth about $40 million, half what it was before prices crashed, and experts say it may be of poor quality and worthless.


US announces new sanctions on Iran defense ministry, atomic energy agency

Updated 53 min 11 sec ago

US announces new sanctions on Iran defense ministry, atomic energy agency

  • US adds five Iranian scientists to sanctions list
  • Washington stands ready to respond to future Iranian aggression

WASHINGTON: The United States slapped additional sanctions on Iran on Monday after the Trump administration’s unilateral weekend declaration that all United Nations penalties that were eased under the 2015 nuclear deal had been restored.
The announcement comes in defiance of the world community, which has rejected U..S. legal standing to impose the international sanctions and sets the stage for an ugly showdown at the annual UN General Assembly this week.

“The United States has now restored UN sanctions on Iran,” President Donald Trump said in a statement issued shortly after he signed an executive order spelling out how the US will enforce the “snapback” of the sanctions. “My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran.”

Trump’s administration named 27 people or entities that it said would be subject to UN sanctions, but the world body itself says that the decision is not up to Washington.
Speaking to reporters with fellow Cabinet secretaries at the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then announced the administration was hitting more than two dozen Iranian individuals and institutions with penalties. Nearly all of them, however, including the Iranian defense ministry and its atomic energy agency, were already subject to US sanctions that the administration had re-imposed after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.

Trump’s executive order mainly affects Iranian and foreign entities involved in conventional weapons and ballistic missile activity. A UN arms embargo on Iran is to expire in October under the terms of the nuclear deal, but Pompeo and others insist the snapback has rescinded its termination.
The Trump administration argues that it is enforcing the UN arms embargo that Iran has violated, including through an attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Accompanied by Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Pompeo said the US was acting because the rest of the world is refusing to confront the Iranian threat.

“We have made it very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce the sanctions,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters when asked about European opposition.
“That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany. We will have every expectation that those nations enforce these sanctions,” he said.
“No matter where you are in the world, you will risk sanctions,” he said, warning foreign companies and officials not to do business with targeted Iranian entities.

Craft said, “As we have in the past, we will stand alone to protect peace and security.”
The administration declared on Saturday that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored because Tehran is violating parts of the nuclear deal in which it agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
But few UN member states believe the US has the legal standing to restore the sanctions because Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. The US argues it retains the right to do so as an original participant in the deal and a member of the council.
The remaining world powers in the deal — France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia — have been struggling to offset the sanctions that the US re-imposed on Iran after the Trump administration left the pact, which the president said was one-sided in favor of Tehran.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, said Monday that there is still a broad agreement among the international community that the nuclear pact should be preserved.
At a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Salehi said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, has been “caught in a quasi-stalemate situation” since Trump pulled out in 2015.


While insisting it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, Iran has been steadily breaking restrictions outlined in the deal on the amount of uranium it can enrich, the purity it can enrich it to, and other limitations. At the same time, Iran has far less enriched uranium and lower-purity uranium than it had before signing the deal, and it has continued to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities.

The United States has separately been seeking to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has increasingly sought cooperation with Iran on the oil sector.
The State Department said it was again imposing sanctions on Maduro under the executive order from Trump that is based on the UN resolution, pointing to defense transactions between Iran and the leftist Venezuelan leader.

“For nearly two years, corrupt officials in Tehran have worked with the illegitimate regime in Venezuela to flout the UN arms embargo,” Pompeo said.
“Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide.”

Furthermore, Elliott Abrams, Washington’s envoy on Iran, said on Monday that the US is concerned about Iran’s cooperation with North Korea and will do whatever it can to prevent it, .
Abrams was responding to a reporter’s question on whether the United States had seen evidence that Tehran and Pyongyang had resumed cooperation on long-range missile development.
He spoke shortly after the Trump administration slapped the new sanctions on Iran.
(With Reuters, AFP and AP)