Yemenis fear decaying oil tanker could cause major disaster

A view of the Yemeni flagged oil tanker Rudeef GNA, sinking in the waters off Yemen's second city and port of Aden. (AFP)
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Updated 06 August 2020

Yemenis fear decaying oil tanker could cause major disaster

  • Beirut explosions spur activists and fishermen to warn of potential impact if Safer tanker is not repaired

AL-MUKALLA: Following Tuesday’s huge explosions in Beirut, Yemenis have been voicing their concern that the decaying Safer floating storage and offloading terminal could lead to a devastating disaster in Yemen if it is not repaired soon.

Having seen footage of the destruction wrought by the explosions in Lebanon, Yemeni fishermen, politicians, government officials, military officers and activists have urged the international community to pressure the Houthis to give experts from the United Nations access to the damaged ship so that it can be fixed.

The Safer has been stranded off the western city of Hodeida since early 2015. It reportedly carries around 1.1 million barrels of crude oil and has recently shown signs of rusting, with water entering the engine room. That leak prompted UN officials to warn of a major impending environmental disaster in the Red Sea, as well as the potential risk of a massive explosion caused by the build up of gases in the storage tanks, or by weaponry fired deliberately or accidentally.

Under pressure from local and international bodies, the Iran-backed Houthis, who control Hodeida, initially agreed to allow a UN team to board the ship to assess the damage and unload the oil. However, they later reversed that decision, citing a conspiracy between the UN, the US, and the Saudi-led Arab coalition.

Khaled Al-Rami, a Yemeni fisherman from Hodeida’s Khokha district on the shores of the Red Sea, told Arab News that his “first thought” on seeing the images from Beirut on Tuesday was that an equally devastating disaster could occur if the Safer spills oil into the water.

Last month, the Yemen-based environmental group Holm Akhdar (Green Dream) warned that an oil spill would have devastating consequences for fishermen, marine diversity, and the country’s fish stock.

“At least 115 of Yemen’s islands in the Red Sea would lose their biodiversity and their natural habitats. About 126,000 Yemeni fishermen — including 67,800 in Hodeida — would lose their only source of income because of the disaster,” the group said in its report.

“If the ship is not repaired, then after Lebanon, it will be Yemen,” Al-Rami said. “On WhatsApp, my friends and other fishermen shared their concerns about a predicted disaster from the ship. We are all worried about the impact of any oil spills on our lives. This is our major concern at the moment. It causes us great horror and panic. I appeal to the international community, the Arab Coalition and the UN committee (in Hodeida) to save us from a possible disaster.”

Nabiel Ali, also a fisherman from Khokha, told Arab News that his generation and his children’s would suffer the consequences of an oil spill from the Safer. “I urge the international community and all the good people in the world to find an urgent solution to this problem,” he said. “For the sake of humanity, please save Yemenis in general and the fishermen in particular.”

On social media, Yemeni activists echoed similar concerns about a possible disaster off the Yemeni coast.

“The Beirut Port explosion came to remind us of another imminent catastrophe that threatens Yemen and the whole world,” Mustafa Ghoules, a Yemeni journalist, said on Twitter. “The Safer tanker, which contains more than a million barrels of oil, is on the verge of leakage and explosion and is used by the Houthis as a weapon,”

Mohammed Saeed Al-Sharabi, an activist, called on his compatriots to save their country from disaster by emptying the decaying tanker before it is too late.

“The Safer tanker must be unloaded before oil spills and causes a major environmental disaster in the Red Sea. You must learn a lesson from the Beirut port disaster,” he said.

Abdullah Al-Saqqaf, another activist, called for mass protests across Yemen to pressurize the Houthis into allowing UN teams to maintain and unload the ship. “There must be popular demonstrations demanding the unloading of the tanker and exerting public pressure on the Houthis to abide by the United Nations resolution on the tanker,” Al-Saqqaf said.

The internationally recognized government of Yemen expressed its support for Lebanon and offered condolences to relatives of the victims of Tuesday’s explosions, according to a brief statement carried by the official Saba news agency on Tuesday night.

“We would like to assure everyone that the Yemeni community members are well and healthy and only two students were lightly injured,” the Yemeni Embassy in Lebanon said in a statement on its official Facebook page.

Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

Updated 21 September 2020

Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

  • UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast
  • Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week
BEIRUT: Lebanon has retrieved the bodies of four people including a child after they tried to flee the crisis-hit country by sea on an overloaded dinghy, the civil defense said Monday.
A week ago, UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast.
Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week, during which time several passengers had died or jumped overboard to find help.
The bodies are presumed to be from the same ill-fated crossing.
Since Friday, “we have retrieved four bodies — belonging to two Lebanese, one of whom was a child, a young Indian man and a Syrian man,” Samir Yazbek, the head of the civil defense’s sea rescue unit, told AFP.
The bodies were found in four separate locations off the north and south coasts of the country, and the search was ongoing, he added.
The UN refugee agency said last week that 25 Syrians, eight Lebanese and three people of other nationalities had been rescued from the boat.
It is unclear how many men, women and children originally clambered aboard the dinghy, and therefore how many are still missing.
On Saturday, the navy said it would step up its searches within and outside Lebanon’s territorial waters to find any other victims.
Relatives of those who went missing from the impoverished north Lebanese city of Tripoli say the people smuggler involved in the crossing has dropped off the radar since the tragedy.
They have filed three legal complaints against the man, who they say is a well-known figure in the community.
A military source on Saturday said a person acting as an intermediary between passengers and the boat owner had been arrested.
In recent weeks, dozens of Lebanese and Syrians have tried to make the perilous sea journey from Lebanon to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, authorities on both sides say.
The Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member, lies just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.
Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades, compounded since February by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It is also reeling from a monster blast at Beirut’s port last month that killed more than 190 people, ravaged large parts of the capital and reignited public anger against the political class.