UN says enough money pledged to begin salvage work on decaying oil tanker in Yemen

UN says enough money pledged to begin salvage work on decaying oil tanker in Yemen
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Updated 22 September 2022

UN says enough money pledged to begin salvage work on decaying oil tanker in Yemen

UN says enough money pledged to begin salvage work on decaying oil tanker in Yemen
  • The $75 million target for first phase was reached when the Netherlands pitched in a second donation of $7 million
  • US envoy Tim Lenderking told Arab News it happened in ‘the context of the truce in Yemen’ and the door could be open for a durable ceasefire’ in months ahead 

NEW YORK CITY: The UN has received enough pledges of funding to begin the first phase of the salvage operation on the decaying Safer oil tanker, David Gressly, the organization’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, announced on Wednesday.

The vessel, which contains more than 1.14 million barrels of oil, has been moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen for more than seven years. It has had little or no maintenance during that time and its condition has deteriorated to a point where there are growing fears of a catastrophic oil spill.

The planned salvage operation to make it safe is split into two phases: The transfer of the oil from the tanker to another vessel, followed by a permanent storage solution until the political situation in Yemen allows for it to be sold or be transported elsewhere.

Speaking during a briefing on the sidelines of the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly, Gressly said 17 countries contributed to raising the $75 million needed for the first phase of the operation, including $10 million from Saudi Arabia, in addition to contributions from private sector, public foundations and a crowdfunding campaign organized by the UN. A second donation of $7 million by the Netherlands ensured the target was reached.

Donors need to follow through on their pledges by delivering the cash but Gressly told Arab News he is hopeful that the money will be in hand by the end of this month “because it’s already happening.”

He added that he senses a “high degree of will,” that he does not normally see, to tackle this problem because the cost of failure is so high. If the oil spills into the Red Sea the clean-up operation could cost about $30 billion. Such an environmental disaster would not only affect Yemen but also neighboring countries, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. In addition fisheries would be damaged and shipping disrupted.

“While most of the money has not yet come in, most of the agreements have now been signed, which are the prerequisite for the actual funds to be transferred,” Gressly told Arab News.

“So I’m pretty confident that by the end of this month, September, there will be more than enough resources to do the initial round of contracts required to go forward. We have very hard commitments from those who have yet to sign contracts to do so.”

Tim Lenderking, the US Special Envoy for Yemen, said during the briefing that this positive development is the result of a combined effort by many countries, including those in the immediate vicinity of the tanker, the private sector and ordinary citizens who responded to a GoFundMe campaign organized by the UN. It came within “the context of the truce in Yemen,” he added.

“The Yemeni conflict has enjoyed progress; a lot of hard work between the UN, US, the Saudi-led coalition, the Yemeni government, (and) the Houthis agreeing to the truce and largely abiding by it,” said Lenderking.

Reflecting on the benefits of the existing truce for the people of Yemen — civilian casualties have fallen by 60 percent, four times more fuel is now entering Yemeni ports, and more than 21,000 people who had been “pinned in the country” since 2016 have been able to travel internationally from Sanaa airport following the resumption of commercial flights — Lenderking told Arab News that he believes the door is open for a “durable ceasefire” to be agreed in the months ahead.




The planned salvage operation to make it safe is split into two phases: The transfer of the oil from the tanker to another vessel, followed by a permanent storage solution until the political situation in Yemen allows for it to be sold or be transported elsewhere. (MAXAR/AFP)

He described the Houthi cooperation that helped achieve the truce on April 2, then extend it in June and again in August, as “a very positive step.”

The latest extension expires in 10 days and Lenderking said all parties with an interest in peace in Yemen are looking at the way forward with the aim of reaching a permanent political solution.

“We see strong signals from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from the UAE, from the Sultanate of Oman,” he said. “And again, within the (five permanent members of the UN Security Council) there is a convergence of views that there is no military solution to the Yemen conflict, that there must be a process of reaching a political agreement.

“I can say that the international community is really united around seeing that the truce is expanded, and that those benefits that are accruing to the Yemenis from the truce are developed further.”

Lenderking said the US “would like to see more oil enter the market through Hodeidah port and used to power food mills, hospitals, schools and the transportation network.”

He said even the Iranian authorities, who back the Houthis, welcomed the truce “both in April and again in June.” But he added that “we need Iranian behavior to match these positive reactions to the truce,” as he called on the regime in Tehran to stop arming and training the Houthis.

The Houthis control Yemen’s western Red Sea ports, including Ras Issa, where the Safer is moored. The UN had been negotiating with the rebel group for years to gain permission for experts to examine the tanker. Both sides signed a memorandum of understanding in March, authorizing a four-month emergency operation to eliminate the immediate threat by transferring the oil on the tanker to another vessel.

“We are very keen to see an end to this potential disaster,” Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak told Arab News on Wednesday at an event hosted by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York.

“We are supporting all the initiatives by the UN … Yemen cannot afford such a disaster. It would cost Yemen directly more than $21 billion. It would damage not just the Red Sea but the effects would be harmful to the planet.”

In the longer term, the memorandum of understanding calls for replacing the Safer within 18 months with a vessel capable of safely holding a similar quantity of oil.

“We rely on the UN and the international community to make sure this plan will be implemented and to avoid any interruption that will delay the process,” Hannah Omar, from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, told Arab News.

“For us it is really important to end this catastrophe and ensure that the Red Sea is safer after this implementation.”

The Safer’s structure, equipment and operating systems have deteriorated over the years, leaving it at risk of springing a leak, exploding or catching fire. The UN has warned for years that an oil spill from it could be four times larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska in 1989, which is still considered the world’s worst oil spill in terms of environmental damage.

Experts estimate a major leak could severely damage Red Sea ecosystems upon which about 30 million people depend, including 1.6 million Yemenis, according to the UN.

The emergency has been ongoing for five years, yet it was only in the spring of this year that funding pledges began to come through.

The total pledge of $14 million from the Netherlands was a significant contribution toward hitting the target for the first phase.

Marc Gerristen, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Arab News that delay in reaching the funding target was largely due to the fact that it took time to convince people of the need to contribute.

“It’s very complicated, of course, to raise awareness if the scope of the problem is not yet completely clear,” he said, adding that the first challenge, therefore, was to make sure everyone understood the scale and severity of the situation.

“The UN played a very important role in this,” he said. “So this is something that was a collective effort, led by the UN. But when it came to mobilizing resources, getting others on board to pledge, this started about one or two years ago.

“This is when the UN looked for a lead country and this is where we (the Netherlands) took off the gloves, so to speak, and gladly played that role.”


US issues new Iran-related sanctions

US issues new Iran-related sanctions
Updated 10 sec ago

US issues new Iran-related sanctions

US issues new Iran-related sanctions

LONDON: The US issued new Iran-related sanctions on Thursday, the State Department said. 


Braced to crush unrest, Iran’s rulers heed lessons of Shah’s fall — analysts

Braced to crush unrest, Iran’s rulers heed lessons of Shah’s fall — analysts
Updated 6 min 50 sec ago

Braced to crush unrest, Iran’s rulers heed lessons of Shah’s fall — analysts

Braced to crush unrest, Iran’s rulers heed lessons of Shah’s fall — analysts
  • Kasra Aarabi: ‘The one striking similarity the current protests have with 1979 is the mood on the streets, which is explicitly revolutionary ... They don’t want reform, they want regime change’
  • Alex Vatanka: ‘Today, the Bazaar has nothing to defend, as it no longer controls the economy which is now in the hands of the Guards’

DUBAI: Iran’s clerical rulers will likely contain the country’s eruption of unrest for now, and prospects of the imminent dawn of a new political order are slim if history is any guide, four analysts said.
The protests, which began over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini her arrest by morality police, have spiralled into a revolt against what protesters said was the increasing authoritarianism of its ruling Islamic clerics.
However, the chances of this snowballing into the kind of uprising that rapidly unseated veteran Egyptian and Tunisian rulers in 2011 seem remote any time soon, since Iran’s rulers are determined to maintain their grip on power at any cost.
For decades, the clerical establishment has used its loyal elite force, the Revolutionary Guards, to violently crush ethnic uprisings, student unrest and protests against economic hardship. So far the Guards have been relatively restrained, but they could be mobilized quickly.
If the protests persist, the Islamic Republic will turn to its usual solution: “unrestrained violence against unarmed civilians to quash the protests this time around,” said Kasra Aarabi, the Iran Program Lead at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.
Already, the protests have lasted nearly three weeks – turning into one of the biggest demonstrations of opposition to Iran’s Islamic clerical rule in years.
Although the volume of protests cannot be compared to the 1979 Islamic revolution, when millions took to the streets, the solidarity and unanimity of protesters calling for the downfall of the clerical establishment are reminiscent, analysts said.
“The one striking similarity the current protests have with 1979 is the mood on the streets, which is explicitly revolutionary ... They don’t want reform, they want regime change,” said Aarabi.
“Of course, no one can predict when this moment will happen: it could be weeks, months or even years ... But the Iranian people have made up their mind.”
Challenging the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy, protesters have burned pictures of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and chanted “Death to the Dictator,” unfazed by security forces using tear gas, clubs and, in many cases, live ammunition.

But Iran’s top rulers are determined not to show the kind of weakness they believe sealed the fate of the US-backed Shah.
To human rights campaigners at that time, the Shah’s great error was to alienate the population with torture and bloodshed. But in hindsight some historians say the Shah was too weak, slow and irresolute in repression.
“The regime’s approach is far more reliant on repression than the Shah,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute.
Rights groups said the state crackdown on protests has so far led to the death of at least 150 people, with hundreds injured and thousands arrested.
Officials say many members of the security forces have been killed by “thugs and rioters linked to foreign foes,” echoing Khamenei’s comments on Monday in which he blamed the United States and Israel for fomenting the “riots.”
Shortly before the revolution, Iran’s Shah appeared on national TV, saying: “As Shah of Iran ... I heard the voice of your revolution ... I cannot but approve your revolution.” His opponents saw that as a sign of fragility. “Khamenei had learned the lesson, as he lived through the revolution, that if you tell the people you’ve heard their voices and that you are wrong, this is the end of your leadership. He doesn’t want to do that,” said Vatanka.
Nevertheless, Khamenei’s unyielding rhetoric also carries risk, Vatanka said. “If Khamenei does not listen ... and stop this nonsense that protests are all foreign-led, there will be more protests,” he said. Demonstrations have spread from Amini’s native Kurdistan province to all of Iran’s 31 provinces, with all layers of society, including ethnic and religious minorities, joining in.
“These broad-based protests have attracted almost all segments of the population whose grievances have not been addressed by the regime,” said Vahid Yucesoy, a specialist on political Islam based in Canada.
A popular political Kurdish slogan used in the Kurdish independence movement, “Woman, Life, Freedom” that was first chanted at Amini’s funeral on Sept. 17 in the Kurdish town of Saqez, has been used globally in protests against her death.
Fearing an ethnic uprising, the establishment has adopted a restrained repression instead of the iron fist strategy it displayed in the past, analysts said.

The protests are “secular, non-ideological to some extent anti-Islamic,” said Saeid Golkar, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“Iranians are revolting against the clergy ... who use religion to suppress the people,” he said.
The anti-Shah revolt reverberated around provincial cities, towns, and villages. But what paralyzed his rule was strikes by oil workers, who turned off the taps on most of the country’s revenue, and by bazaar merchants, who funded the rebel clerics.
While university students have played a pivotal role in current protests with dozens of universities on strike, there has been little sign of the Bazaar and oil workers joining in.
“Bazaaris were important during the 1979 revolution as, at the time, they saw the Shah’s economic reforms as against their interests and therefore backed the revolution,” Vatanka said.
“Today, the Bazaar has nothing to defend, as it no longer controls the economy which is now in the hands of the Guards.”
The Guards, loyal to Khamenei, is an industrial empire as well as being a powerful military force. It wields political clout and controls Iran’s oil industry.


Lebanon announces first cholera case in almost 30 years

Lebanon announces first cholera case in almost 30 years
Updated 14 min 47 sec ago

Lebanon announces first cholera case in almost 30 years

Lebanon announces first cholera case in almost 30 years
  • The announcement comes as neighboring war-torn Syria is struggling to contain a cholera outbreak
  • The person infected is from Lebanon's impoverished predominantly rural northern province of Akkar

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s health ministry on Thursday announced the crisis-hit country’s first case of cholera in decades.
The announcement comes as neighboring war-torn Syria is struggling to contain a cholera outbreak that has spread across the country over the past month.
Lebanon began a downward spiral in late 2019 that has plunged three-quarters of its population into poverty. Rampant power cuts, water shortages, and skyrocketing inflation have deteriorated living conditions for millions.
The Health Ministry said the person infected is from Lebanon’s impoverished predominantly rural northern province of Akkar, which borders Syria, adding that it was the first case of the waterborne disease since 1993.
Caretaker Health Minister Firas Abiad has met with authorities and international organizations following the confirmed case to discuss ways to prevent a possible outbreak.
According to the World Health Organization, a cholera infection is caused by consuming food or water infected with the Vibrio cholerae bacteria, and while most cases are mild to moderate, not treating the illness could lead to death.
Richard Brennan, Regional Emergency Director of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, told The Associated Press that the organization has been in talks with authorities in Lebanon and other countries bordering Syria to bring in the necessary supplies to respond to possible cases in the country.
“Cross-border spread is a concern, we’re taking significant precautions,” Brennan said. “Protecting the most vulnerable will be absolutely vital.”
Brennan added that vaccines are in short supply relative to global demand.
Impoverished families in Lebanon often ration water, unable to afford private water tanks for drinking and domestic use.
The UN and Syria’s Health Ministry have said the source of the outbreak is likely linked to people drinking unsafe water from the Euphrates River and using contaminated water to irrigate crops, resulting in food contamination.
Syria’s health services have suffered heavily from its yearslong war, while much of the country is short on supplies to sanitize water.
Syrian health officials as of Wednesday documented at least 594 cases of cholera and 39 deaths. Meanwhile, in the rebel-held northwest of the country, health authorities documented 605 suspected cases, dozens of confirmed cases, and at least one death.


Iran woman accuses state of killing daughter at Mahsa Amini protest

Iran woman accuses state of killing daughter at Mahsa Amini protest
Updated 06 October 2022

Iran woman accuses state of killing daughter at Mahsa Amini protest

Iran woman accuses state of killing daughter at Mahsa Amini protest
  • Nasrin Shahkarami also accused the authorities of threatening her to make a forced confession over the death of 16-year-old Nika
  • A crackdown by the security forces on the women-led protests has claimed dozens of lives, according to human rights groups

PARIS: The mother of an Iranian teen who died after joining protests over Mahsa Amini’s death accused the authorities of murdering her, in a video sent Thursday to foreign-based opposition media.
Nasrin Shahkarami also accused the authorities of threatening her to make a forced confession over the death of 16-year-old Nika, who went missing on September 20 after heading out to join an anti-hijab protest in Tehran.
Protests erupted across Iran over the death of Amini, a 22-year-old Kurd, after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
A crackdown by the security forces on the women-led protests has claimed dozens of lives, according to human rights groups.
After Nika Shahkarami’s death, her family had been due to bury her in the western city of Khorramabad on what would have been her 17th birthday, her aunt Atash Shahkarami wrote on social media.
But Persian-language media outside Iran have reported that the girl’s family were not allowed to lay her to rest in her hometown, and that her aunt and uncle were later arrested.
The aunt later appeared on television saying Nika Shahkarami had been “thrown” from a multi-story building.
But her sister said “they forced her to make these confessions and broadcast them,” in the video posted online Thursday by Radio Farda, a US-funded Persian station based in Prague.
“We expected them to say whatever they wanted to exonerate themselves... and they have in fact implicated themselves,” said Nasrin Shahkarami.
“I probably don’t need to try that hard to prove they’re lying... my daughter was killed in the protests on the same day that she disappeared.”
The mother said a forensic report found that she had been “killed on that date, and due to repeated blunt force trauma to the head.
“I saw my daughter’s body myself... The back of her head showed she had suffered a very severe blow as her skull had caved in. That’s how she was killed.”
Nasrin Shahkarami said the authorities had tried to call her several times but she has refused to answer.
“But they have called others, my uncles, others, saying that if Nika’s mother does not come forward and say the things we want, basically confess to the scenario that we want and have created, then we will do this and that, and threatened me.”
Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR) on Thursday said it held the Islamic republic responsible for Nika Shahkarami’s death.
“Contradictory claims by the Islamic republic about... Nika Shakarami’s cause of death based on grainy edited footage and her relatives’ forced televised confessions under duress are unacceptable,” it said
IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam called for an independent investigation.
“The evidence points to the government’s role in Nika Shakarami’s murder, unless the opposite is proven by an independent fact-finding mission under the supervision of the United Nations,” he said in a statement.
“Until such a committee is formed, the responsibility for Nika’s murder, like the other victims of the current protests, rests with (Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah) Ali Khamenei and the forces under his command.”


Egypt’s parliament to discuss proposed changes to Suez Canal Authority law

Egypt’s parliament to discuss proposed changes to Suez Canal Authority law
Updated 06 October 2022

Egypt’s parliament to discuss proposed changes to Suez Canal Authority law

Egypt’s parliament to discuss proposed changes to Suez Canal Authority law
  • Bill submitted by govt seeks to establish fund owned by the authority
  • Facility would help boost canal’s revenue

CAIRO: The Egyptian parliament is expected next week to discuss a new bill submitted by the government to amend the Suez Canal Authority law.

The aim is to establish a fund owned by the authority with an independent legal personality to be headquartered in Ismailia. More offices could be set up in the future elsewhere in the country.

The amendments would enable the fund to contribute to the canal’s economic development through the exploitation of its resources in accordance with international standards, and better deal with crises and emergency situations as they occur.

The changes would grant the authority the right to participate, alone or with others, in establishing companies, investing in securities, buying, selling, renting, exploiting and benefiting from its fixed and movable assets — provided that the authorized capital of the fund is 100 billion Egyptian pounds ($5.09 billion).

The government has said the fund would maximize the canal’s revenues.

The move is significant in light of the challenges facing the Suez Canal facility as a result of weak global economic performance and a decline in international trade rates.

“Issuing such amendments to the Suez Canal Authority law are related to the economic conference that will be held at the end of this month, which may also lead to other economic ideas,” journalist Emad El-Din Hussein told Arab News.

“The successive international developments will impose different and varied challenges on the Egyptian government, especially the repercussions of the global economic crisis and its effects on us in the region,” he said.

Economist Ahmed Sayed Mahmoud said: “I expect a local economic boom, especially with the Egyptian government’s desire to change and amend some laws that would contribute to supporting the national economy, including the amendments to the Suez Canal Authority law.”

He added: “Opening up to all kinds of investment is very beneficial to the economy, whether through acquisitions or pumping investments in new companies and factories.”