New Yemen anger over ‘time bomb’ oil vessel

The FSO Safer being held hostage by Houthi Militia off Hodeidah in Yemen. (File photo)
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Updated 05 October 2020

New Yemen anger over ‘time bomb’ oil vessel

  • Houthis again reject UN request to inspect stricken tanker in Red Sea

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: There was renewed anger in Yemen on Sunday after Houthi leaders again refused to allow UN inspectors to board a rusting oil storage vessel moored off the port city of Hodeidah.

Yemeni authorities accused the Houthis of risking an environmental catastrophe in the Red Sea, and called for a tougher UN line against the Iran-backed militias.

“The international community’s lenient approach should stop,” Salem Al-Khanbashi, Yemen’s deputy prime minister, told Arab News on Sunday. 

“The Houthis behave arrogantly because of this approach. The international community should pressure the Houthis to either empty the ship or subject it to immediate maintenance.”

The FSO Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It fell into Houthi hands in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around Hodeidah. The vessel has been described as “a ticking time bomb” amid fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to seep out.

The Houthis briefly bowed to pressure in July and agreed to allow a team of UN engineers to visit the ship, before changing their minds and restating previous demands for the revenue from the oil. 

They have also demanded that the vessel be inspected by engineers from “neutral” countries such as Germany, Sweden, Russia or China, claiming that UN experts would issue a politically motivated report written in advance. 

Al-Khanbashi said his government would agree to authorize the UN to collect and hold revenues from Safer oil sales as a middle ground until any financial dispute was resolved.

He spoke after officials from the UN Yemen envoy’s office and the UN Office for Project Services held a “virtual” meeting with the Houthis to discuss access to the vessel.

The Houthis had been expected to finally agree, but instead they again rejected the request, and claimed that the UN had failed to consider their demands.

Yemeni government officials have long accused the Houthis of using the tanker as leverage to ease economic pressure and extract concessions from the Yemeni government, the Arab coalition and the international community. 

Saudi Arabia alerted the UN Security Council last month about an oil spot in the Red Sea west of the tanker, fueling fears of an impending disaster.  

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN secretary-general, said in August that the UN was working on preventing a major catastrophe, and called for experts to visit the vessel immediately.


Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

Updated 32 min 53 sec ago

Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

  • Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms
  • Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces prevented the arrival of hundreds of protesters at the French ambassador’s residence and the French Embassy in Lebanon on Friday.

They feared the recurrence of riots similar to the ones that erupted in front of the Danish Embassy in Ashrafieh, Beirut, in 2006, and led to 28 people being injured, damage to storefronts, and the burning of the consulate building and terrorizing of people.

A few hundred worshippers left mosques after Friday prayers and marched to defend the Prophet Muhammad.

Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms.

Khaldoun Qawwas, Dar Al-Fatwa’s media spokesperson, told Arab News: “These groups have nothing to do with Dar Al-Fatwa, which has already announced its position regarding what happened in France in two separate statements.”

Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan, the grand mufti of Lebanon, in a statement issued a week earlier, said that “freedom of opinion and expression does not entail insulting the beliefs and symbols of others, and this requires a reconsideration of the concept of absolute freedom.”

He stressed the “renunciation of violence and confrontation of radicalism and terrorism that has no religion or race.”

Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut, since the embassy and the French ambassador’s residence are located where roads leading to the city’s western and eastern neighborhoods intersect. This led to a huge traffic jam in the capital.

The protest’s starting point was the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque in Al-Mazraa, situated only a few kilometers from the Residence des Pins (Pine Residence).

Three major security checkpoints — one set up by the riot police — separated the Residence des Pins and protesters, some of whom were transported by buses from the north of Lebanon to Beirut.

Protesters held Islamic signs and chanted slogans denouncing France, its President Emmanuel Macron and its former colonization of the country. Some protesters tried to remove barbed wire and threw stones, water bottles and batons at the security forces. Another group burned the French flag. Security forces responded by throwing tear gas canisters, leading to the retreat of the protesters.

In a statement, Lebanon’s Supreme Council of the Roman Catholic condemned “the terrorist attack in the French city of Nice.”

The council considered that “this terrorist crime has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. It is an individual act carried out by terrorists haunted by radicalism, obscurantism and the rejection of the French people’s historical civilizational values. Through their acts, they abuse the spirit of tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other and the freedom of thought and belief which all religions call for.”

The council called for “staying away from defaming religions and beliefs and inciting hate and resentment among people, raising the voice of moderation, wisdom and reason, working together in the spirit of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together announced by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb from the UAE last year.”

During the Friday sermon, Grand Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan condemned “any criminal act against any people, including the French people.” He added: “We categorically reject what happened in Nice yesterday, strongly condemn it and consider it a blatant and insolent attack on Muslims before others.”

He simultaneously condemned “the official French position that affronted the Prophet, took lightly and made light of the feelings of millions of Muslims.”