Saudi Arabia warns UN of oil in Red Sea near abandoned tanker

The Safer tanker has been stranded off Yemen’s Red Sea oil terminal of Ras Issa for more than five years. (File/AFP)
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Updated 25 September 2020

Saudi Arabia warns UN of oil in Red Sea near abandoned tanker

  • Decaying vessel could leak 1.1m barrels of crude and cause unprecedented disaster, says expert

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia has warned the UN Security Council that an “oil spot” has been sighted in a shipping lane 50 km west of an abandoned, decaying oil tanker off the coast of Yemen. Experts fear it could spill 1.1 million barrels of crude into the Red Sea.
The tanker, called the Safer, has been moored near Ras Issa oil terminal for more than five years. The UN previously warned that it could leak four times as much oil as was spilled during the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Security Council have repeatedly called on Houthi insurgents in Yemen to grant access the tanker for a technical assessment and emergency repairs.
In a letter to the 15-member Security Council on Wednesday, Saudi Ambassador to the UN Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said “a pipeline attached to the vessel is suspected to have been separated from the stabilizers holding it to the bottom and is now floating on the surface of the sea.”
He said the vessel “has reached a critical state of degradation, and the situation is a serious threat to all Red Sea countries, particularly Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” adding “this dangerous situation must not be left unaddressed.”
Ahmed Al-Ansari, an environmental expert in Jeddah, said: “There is no doubt that the Houthi militias’ intransigence in allowing … maintenance of the tanker … has increased the chances of deterioration.”
It might result in a major oil leak, he added, that could cause an unprecedented environmental disaster, the “negative economic, environmental and health effects (of which) will be great on the countries of the region and the world, due to the importance of the Red Sea in international maritime transport” as a major link between East and West.
Al-Ansari welcomed the efforts of Saudi authorities to press for action in the UN “to ensure that the Kingdom’s shores and regional waters are protected from all potential dangers.”
Independent researchers are also concerned about the condition of the Safer. In a 2019 report for the Atlantic Council titled “Why the massive floating bomb in the Red Sea needs urgent attention,” energy experts Ian Ralby, David Soud and Rohini Ralby said the potential consequences of a disaster include an end to the two-year cease-fire in Hodeidah and a worsening of Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
“The risk of explosion increases by the day and if that were to happen, not only would it damage or sink any ships in the vicinity, but it would create an environmental crisis roughly four and a half times the size of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” they said.
Other experts warn that the security situation in Yemen adds to the danger. “(Given) the complexity of this war, an errant bullet or shell from any one of the combatants could trigger a blast as large as Beirut’s Aug. 4 disaster, prompting a historic oil spill,” Dave Harden, managing director of Georgetown Strategy Group, wrote in an op-ed published by news website The Hill last month. “Cleanup efforts would be daunting — given the insecurity of being in a war zone and the additional health risks from COVID-19.”
Waleed Al-Qudaimi, deputy governor of Hodeidah, said an oil spill would create a humanitarian crisis as severe as the one caused by the Houthi insurgency.
“It (would) add an additional burden that will affect Yemen for decades, deprive thousands of people of their jobs and destroy marine biodiversity in Yemeni waters,” he said as he appealed for the international community to maintain pressure on the Houthis to allow maintenance work.


Inaugural Global AI Summit opens virtually

Updated 21 October 2020

Inaugural Global AI Summit opens virtually

  • World’s leading CEOs, innovators and policymakers to attend virtual event

DUBAI: The inaugural Global AI Summit, which bills itself as the premier platform for dialogue on artificial intelligence, opens virtually on Wednesday and brings together stakeholders from the world of academia, government and the private sector during the two-day event.

The Global AI Summit, organized by the Saudi Data & AI Authority (SDAIA) and G20 Saudi Secretariat honoring Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the international forum, will explore artificial intelligence’s role in the new global era and how its transformational potential can be deployed “to create a better future for all.”

The two-day virtual event will particularly tackle what artificial intelligence “means for policy and decision makers interested in leveraging the potential, for the good of humanity.”

Among the world’s leading CEOs, innovators and policymakers who will be at the event are: Abdullah Al-Swaha, Saudi Arabia’s minister of communications and information technology; Omar Sultan Al-Olama, the UAE minister of state for artificial intelligence; Masayoshi Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank Group Corp; and Houlin Zhao, the secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union.