UN renews calls for access to Safer as fighting rages in Hodeidah

Special UN renews calls for access to Safer as fighting rages in Hodeidah
A pro-government tribal fighter checks munitions at a position where he is fighting against the Houthis in Marib, Yemen. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 October 2020

UN renews calls for access to Safer as fighting rages in Hodeidah

UN renews calls for access to Safer as fighting rages in Hodeidah
  • Fighting intensifies for the fifth day as Houthis launch major assaults on government-controlled areas

AL-MUKALLA: The UN has renewed calls for Iran-backed Houthis to allow its experts to visit the decaying Safer tanker in the Red Sea.

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Monday the UN was still worried about the tanker, warning any oil spill would cause a major environmental disaster.

“I can tell you that we remain extremely concerned about the oil tanker off the coast of Hodeidah, which is at risk of spilling more than 1.1 million barrels of oil into the Red Sea,” he said at a press conference in New York, adding the UN has sent the Houthis a detailed plan about proposed technical assessment of the tanker. 

“The UN has submitted a comprehensive mission proposal to the de facto authorities, and we are optimistic that this will be quickly approved,” he said, adding: “The UN needs formal approval of the mission in order to begin procuring specialized equipment and making other arrangements.”

Last week, a virtual meeting between the Houthis and UN officials ended in failure. Houthi officials said they blocked the maintenance of the tanker under UN supervision over fears members of the proposed team were “spies” disguised as engineers.

Dujarric demanded the Houthis swiftly comply with the UN demands for inspection, saying the UN team would not arrive at the site until at least two months after receiving Houthi consent. “Based on current market availability of required equipment, we would need up to seven weeks from receipt of approvals until the mission staff could arrive on site with necessary equipment. The sooner the approvals come together, the sooner the work can get started,” Dujarric said.

In Hodeidah province, fighting intensified on Tuesday for the fifth day as the Houthis launched major assaults on government-controlled areas. Heavy explosions rocked the edges of Hodeidah city on Tuesday, as government forces traded heavy fire with the Houthis. 

“The Houthis launched an attack on Tuesday morning on the Joint Forces in Kilo 16 and Al-Sateen street in Hodeidah,” a local military officer, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Arab News by telephone.

Other local sources described the clashes in Hodeidah this week as the heaviest since late 2018 when the internationally recognized government and the rebels signed the Stockholm Agreement. Fighting has been raging in Hays and Al-Durihimi districts in Hodeidah since Friday, when the Houthis launched an offensive to push out government troops from liberated areas in the provinces. 

Hundreds of Houthis and government troops have been reportedly killed or wounded in the fighting. International experts have warned that stray shells could hit the stranded Safer, causing an explosion as destructive as the recent port blast in Beirut.