Houthis give green light for UN team to access decaying oil tanker

Houthis give green light for UN team to access decaying oil tanker
A Houthi supporter holds a rifle as he attends a ceremony held to send donated clothes to Houthi fighters at the frontlines against government forces, in Sanaa, Yemen November 24, 2020. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 25 November 2020

Houthis give green light for UN team to access decaying oil tanker

Houthis give green light for UN team to access decaying oil tanker
  • The tanker has been gradually decaying due to lack of regular maintenance since the Houthis seized control of the province of Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthis had finally given the green light for an international inspection team to board the decaying FSO Safer oil tanker moored off Yemen’s Red Sea coast, the UN said on Tuesday.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the Houthis on Saturday sent an official letter to the UN confirming their approval for experts to access the stranded vessel to carry out vital maintenance checks.

The 45-year-old ship has been anchored about 60 km north of Hodeidah since the start of Yemen’s civil war five years ago and is loaded with more than 1 million barrels of crude oil. Officials have warned that the rotting tanker posed “grave risks” to the environment and maritime navigation if left unattended any longer.

Although it appeared that the Houthis had at last bowed to local and international pressure, some Yemeni experts and officials remained skeptical as to whether the group would deliver on the promise.

“The objective of the UN-led expert mission is to assess the vessel and undertake initial light maintenance as well as to formulate recommendations on what further action is required to neutralize the risk of an oil spill,” Dujarric added.

During a press briefing in New York, he said that the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) would handle picking members of the mission and equipment required for assessing and repairing damage to the Safer.

“I think if everything comes together, we would expect the mission staff and the equipment to arrive on site by late January or early February.”

The tanker has been gradually decaying due to lack of regular maintenance since the Houthis seized control of the province of Hodeidah.

The UN, diplomats, and environmentalists have been pressuring the Houthis to allow international experts to repair the ship following reports that rust has eroded the tanker’s structures, allowing water to enter into its rooms.

Local and international experts have warned that an oil spill would cause a major environmental disaster in the Red Sea that would destroy marine life and disrupt international commercial shipping.

In July, the Houthis agreed to grant the UN access to the tanker before changing their mind, requiring that the team included experts from countries that did not back Saudi-led military operations in Yemen.

Dujarric said that the approval from the Houthis in July was like a “broad statement. It was … if I recall correctly, it had been a broad permission … broad statement of saying, yes, you can come and do what you need to do on the tanker, but we need to figure out the technical modalities.

This time, he added, the Houthis were more serious. “This is a further step in the right direction.”

Western diplomats who have long marshaled pressure on the Houthi group to allow the maintenance of the tanker expressed their optimism with the step, hoping it would help to avert a potential environmental catastrophe.

“The agreement to allow access to the Safer tanker is welcome (and overdue). Making it safe as soon as possible will prevent a potentially huge environmental disaster,” the British Ambassador to Yemen Michael Aron said on Twitter on Wednesday.

But Yemeni political analysts and activists have treated the positive media reports with skepticism, citing the rebels’ long track record of unfulfilled promises.

“There is no deal. The Houthis are playing you and us like a table tennis. The difference is that we know they’re playing us, while you’re still in denial,” Baraa Shiban, a Yemeni activist, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, said: “I will believe it when I see it. Houthis are just trying to buy time to come up with a more convincing lie. It works every time with an international community that base decisions on wishful thinking, not reality. Thanks to the Stockholm agreement, they hold Safer a hostage.”

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Mohammed Ali Al-Maqdashi said on Tuesday that dozens of rebel forces, including several field commanders, had been killed in intense fighting outside the central city of Marib and in contested locations in the northern province of Jouf during the last couple of days.

During his visit to flashpoints in Marib on Tuesday, Al-Maqdashi vowed to defeat the Houthis and push them out of areas under their control.

“The Yemeni people and their armed forces are determined to win the battle to end the (Houthi) coup and rebellion and restore state institutions,” official media reported him as saying.


Sudan schoolbook picture sparks angry reform debate

Sudan schoolbook picture sparks angry reform debate
Bookseller Yaqoub Mohamed Yaqoub, 45, sits by his roadside stall where he has been working for 15 years, in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, on January 14, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2021

Sudan schoolbook picture sparks angry reform debate

Sudan schoolbook picture sparks angry reform debate
  • Unrest ricocheted beyond North African country, triggering uprisings, crackdowns, civil wars

KHARTOUM: As Sudan’s transitional government shifts the nation from the Islamist rule of ousted strongman Omar Bashir, a new schoolbook has sparked controversy for reproducing Michelangelo’s iconic “Creation of Adam.”
Khartoum’s government has embarked on deeply controversial reforms in a bid to boost its international standing and rescue its ailing economy — but bringing it into a confrontation with those who see changes as anti-Islamic.
The offending picture, in a history textbook for teenagers, has become a flashpoint in the argument. “It is an ugly offense,” said Sudan’s Academy of Islamic Fiqh, the body ruling on Islamic law, which issued an edict banning teaching from the book.
Michelangelo’s fresco, depicting the Biblical story of God reaching out with his hand to give life to Adam, is a flagship piece of 16th century Renaissance art that forms part of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling in Rome.
“The book glorifies Western culture in a way that makes it the culture of science and civilization — in contrast to its presentation of Islamic civilization,” the Fiqh academy added.

BACKGROUND

In a viral video, a preacher broke down as he waved the book during Friday prayers, accusing it of promoting ‘apostasy’ and ‘heresy.’

Furious Muslim clerics have railed against the book and other changes to the school curriculum.
In one video widely shared on social media, a preacher broke down as he waved the book during Friday prayers, accusing it of promoting “apostasy” and “heresy.”
Another urged followers to “burn the book.”
But others defended the changes, saying they were part of necessary education reforms.
“The picture is not in a religious book,” teacher Qamarya Omar said.
“It is in a history book for the sixth-grade under a section called European Renaissance, which makes it placed in context.”