UN warns of ‘ecological disaster’ in Houthi-controlled Red Sea area

UN warns of ‘ecological disaster’ in Houthi-controlled Red Sea area
A satellite image off the FSO Safer oil tanker on June 19, 2020, off the port of Ras Isa. (AFP)
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Updated 13 November 2020

UN warns of ‘ecological disaster’ in Houthi-controlled Red Sea area

UN warns of ‘ecological disaster’ in Houthi-controlled Red Sea area
  • Special rapporteurs demand access to stricken oil tanker off Hoideidah

LONDON: UN human rights experts have demanded access to an abandoned oil tanker off the coast of Yemen that say poses a risk of causing an “ecological catastrophe” in the Red Sea.

The tanker, FSO Safer, lies in waters controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis near the port of Hodeidah, where it currently holds an estimated 1.1 million barrels of oil.

The ship, launched in 1976, is decaying rapidly after being abandoned in 2015 when its engine room flooded with seawater.

Both the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed to grant access to the vessel to independent experts in 2018, formally requesting the UN’s assistance.

Since then, however, relevant permits from local authorities in the Houthi-controlled area have not been granted.

“It is vital that a UN technical team be permitted to board the FSO Safer if we are to have any hope of preventing the threat of a spill that could be four times worse than the historic Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989,” said Marcos Orellana, UN special rapporteur on toxics and human rights.

“Has the world learned nothing from the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut in Lebanon in August? Surely the dangers of mishandling hazardous substances are now evident,” he added.

“If this ship were to break up, a spill could decimate livelihoods of local coastal communities, biodiversity in the region, and heavily impact shipping routes in the Red Sea,” he said.

“A UN technical team should be given all necessary means to assess the dilapidated tanker and conclusively avert the threat of a spill from the dilapidated tanker.”

David Boyd, special rapporteur for human rights and environment, said: “An oil spill would harm the rights to life, health and a healthy environment for some 1.6 million Yemenis.”

He added: “This is a tragedy in the making and it must be prevented at all costs from hitting the people of Yemen. They have suffered enough.”