NEW YORK CITY: The UN is “closer than ever” to beginning the first phase of the salvage operation on the decaying Safer oil tanker off the coast of Yemen.
However, as a result of the war in Ukraine, it has become harder and more expensive to find and hire a replacement oil tanker, posing yet another challenge for the long-delayed operation.
“Donors have generously pledged more than $84 million of the funding required for the UN-coordinated plan to prevent a major oil spill from the Safer,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Tuesday. “Additional funding from the private sector is expected soon.”
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. During that time it has had little or no maintenance 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 has been split into two phases. First, the oil will be transferred from the tanker to another vessel, then moved to a permanent storage facility until the political situation in Yemen allows for it to be sold or transported elsewhere.
Haq said that with $73 million of pledges now received, the UN has been able to begin “essential preparatory work.”
“All of the technical expertise is in place to undertake the procurement for the complex operation,” he said. “This includes a marine management consultancy firm, maritime legal firm, insurance and ship brokers and oil spill experts.
“The contracting of the salvage company that will carry out the emergency operation is at an advanced stage.”
The key challenge now, Haq said, is procuring the use of a large enough oil tanker because “the UN cannot begin the emergency operation until it is certain that a safe crude carrier will be in place to take on the oil.”
However, the availability of suitable ships has decreased in the past six months and prices have doubled since the budget for the operation was prepared, “basically due to events having to do with the war in Ukraine,” he explained.
“So just as we were gearing up for operations, the cost to both lease and purchase this type of a vessel increased. So a very large crude carrier now costs at about 50 percent more than what’s budgeted in the original plan. So we have some additional expenses and it’s a little bit harder finding the right ships but we’re proceeding with the work.
“The UN is working expeditiously with a maritime broker and other partners to find a workable solution and remains confident the work can begin in the coming months.”
If the Safer breaks up and the oil spills into the Red Sea, the clean-up operation could cost an estimated $30 billion. The environmental disaster would affect not only Yemen but neighboring countries including Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia. In addition, fisheries would be damaged and shipping disrupted.
More than 17 countries have contributed to the funds needed for the first phase of the salvage operation, including Saudi Arabia, which donated $10 million. There have also been contributions from the private sector, public foundations and a crowdfunding campaign set up by the UN. A donation of $7 million from the Netherlands late last year brought the total up to the initial target.
The Houthis control Yemen’s western Red Sea ports, including Ras Issa, close to which the Safer is moored. The UN had been negotiating with the rebel militias for several years in an attempt to gain access to the tanker for a proper inspection. Both sides signed a memorandum of understanding in March last year, which authorized a four-month emergency operation to eliminate the immediate threat by transferring the oil to another vessel.
On Monday, France announced an additional contribution of €1 million ($1.08 million) to the UN salvage fund.
Alexandre Olmedo, deputy political coordinator of France to the UN, said he hopes the first phase of the operation can be “quickly implemented to avoid an ecological disaster.”
“We also call on the Houthis, who are currently in control of the vessel, to fully cooperate with the UN in the implementation of the rescue plan,” he said.
BENGHAZI: Libya’s eastern authorities on Sunday announced the postponement of a reconstruction conference for the flood-hit city of Derna that had been planned for October 10 but was met with international skepticism.
The conference was put off until November 1-2 to “give companies and design offices the necessary time to prepare their projects,” the committee charged with planning the meeting said in a statement.
Yemen’s state-run airline suspends only route out of Sanaa over Houthi restrictions on its funds
Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa to the Jordanian capital of Amman
Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country
Updated 28 min 12 sec ago
CAIRO: Yemen’s state-run carrier has suspended the only air route out of the country’s rebel-held capital to protest Houthi restrictions on its funds, officials said Sunday.
Yemen Airways cancels commercial flights from Sanaa’s international airport to the Jordanian capital of Amman. The airline had been operating six commercial and humanitarian flights a week between Sanaa and Amman as of the end of September.
The Sanaa-Amman air route was reintroduced last year as part of a UN-brokered cease-fire between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government. The cease-fire agreement expired in October 2022, but the warring factions refrained from taking measures that would lead to a flare-up of all-out fighting.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014, when the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, and forced the government into exile.
The airline blamed the Iranian-backed Houthis for the move because they were withholding $80 million in the company’s funds in Houthi-controlled banks in Sanaa. It said in a statement on Saturday that the rebels rejected a proposal to release 70 percent of the funds. The statement said the airline’s sales in Sanaa exceed 70 percent of its revenues.
The statement said the Houthi ban on the funds was linked to “illegal and unreasonable demands, and caused severe damage to the airline’s activities.”
The Houthi-controlled Saba news agency quoted an unnamed source condemning the airline’s move. The source was quoted as saying that the rebels offered to release 60 percent of the airline’s funds in Sanaa.
Even before the conflict, Yemen had been the Arab world’s poorest country. The war has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.
The dispute between the Houthis and the national airline comes as the rebels and Saudi Arabia have appeared close to a peace agreement in recent months. Saudi Arabia received a Houthi delegation last month for peace talks, saying the negotiations had “positive results.”
The Saudi-Houthi efforts, however, were overshadowed by an attack blamed on the Houthis last week that killed four Bahraini troops who were part of a coalition force patrolling Saudi Arabia’s southern border.
The Houthis, meanwhile, barred four activists from the Mwatana for Human Rights group from boarding their flight at Sanaa airport on Saturday “without providing legal justification,” group said.
It said that Houthi officials interrogated Mwatana’s chairperson Radhya Al-Mutawakel, her deputy and three other members before telling them that they were barred from travel according to “higher orders.”
A spokesman for the rebels was not immediately available for comment.
Mwatana said the ban was “just one episode in a long series of violations” by the rebels at the Sanaa airport on land routes linking rebel-held areas with other parts of Yemen.
The rebels also rounded up dozens of people who took to the streets last month in the Houthi-held areas, including Sanaa, to commemorate the anniversary of Yemen’s Sep. 26 revolution, which marks the establishment of Yemen’s republic in 1962, Amnesty International said.
“It is outrageous that demonstrators commemorating a national historical moment found themselves attacked, arrested, and facing charges simply because they were waving flags,” Amnesty said, and called on Houthis to immediately release those detained.
Suicide attack wounds 2 police officers in Ankara near parliament: Interior minister
There is no immediate information on the assailants
Updated 25 min 14 sec ago
ANKARA: A suicide bomber detonated an explosive device in the heart of the Turkish capital, Ankara, on Sunday, hours before parliament was scheduled to reopen after a three-month summer recess. A second assailant was killed in a shootout with police, the interior minister said.
Two police officers were slightly injured during the attack near an entrance to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, Minister Ali Yerlikaya said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
The attack occurred as parliament was set to re-open with an address by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
There was no immediate information on the assailants. Kurdish and far-left militant groups as well as the Daesh group have carried out deadly attacks throughout the country in the past.
Yerlikaya said the assailants arrived at the scene inside a light commercial vehicle.
Television footage showed bomb squads working near a parked vehicle in the area which is located near the Turkish Grand National Assembly and other government buildings. A rocket launcher could be seen lying near the vehicle.
Police cordoned off access to the city center.
The two police officers were being treated in a hospital and were not in serious condition, media reports said.
Dozens arrested as protesters mark Iran’s ‘Bloody Friday’: Activists
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year
Updated 01 October 2023
PARIS: Iranian security forces made dozens of arrests Saturday as protesters in the southeast commemorated the killing of dozens of demonstrators in the region one year ago, human rights groups said.
At least 104 people were killed, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO, in what is known as “Bloody Friday,” when security forces fired on a protest in Zahedan, the main city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, on September 30 last year.
The violence marked the single deadliest day of months-long protests that erupted in Iran last year.
The Zahedan protests were triggered by reports a teenage girl had been raped in custody by a police commander and took place in parallel to nationwide demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.
Activists have long complained that the ethnic Baluch population in Sistan-Baluchistan, who adhere to Sunni Islam not the Shiite branch of the faith dominant in Iran, suffer from discrimination.
Security forces fired tear gas and live rounds for a second straight day to disperse protesters who turned out in Zahedan to mark the anniversary, the Baluch-focused rights group Haalvsh said.
Throughout Saturday, businesses in Zahedan and other towns observed a general strike, it said, adding that “dozens” of people had been arrested.
The group posted footage with the sound of gunfire clearly audible amid a heavy security presence in the city.
Security forces had already used live fire to disperse protesters on Friday, wounding at least 25 people, including children, according to the Baloch Activists Campaign group. There was no immediate word on any casualties in Saturday’s unrest.
Even as the protest movement dwindled elsewhere in Iran, residents of Zahedan have held regular Friday protests throughout the past 12 months.
The city’s Friday prayer leader, Molavi Abdolhamid, who has been outspoken in his support of the protests over the past year, issued a new call for justice over “Bloody Friday,” telling the faithful to “know your rights.”
Footage posted on social media on Friday showed chaotic scenes as hospitals filled with injured, including children, while people on the streets sought to escape to safety amid the sound of heavy gunfire.
IHR said that the protests in Zahedan and other cities were again “brutally crushed” with authorities using “live ammunition, pellet bullets and tear gas against unarmed protesters.”
The executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, condemned the “horrifying display of indiscriminate violence... as the state attempts to suppress peaceful demonstrations.”
“It is imperative for the international community to shine a spotlight on this violence and to hold Iranian officials accountable in international courts, invoking the principle of international jurisdiction,” he said.
No reprieve from hardship in South Sudan for people fleeing Sudan conflict
South Sudan is no stranger to humanitarian crisis, having had its own share since achieving statehood in 2011
Experts say the country is in no position to handle the large and sudden influx of displaced people from Sudan
Updated 01 October 2023
NAIROBI: Civilians displaced by the conflict in Sudan have sought sanctuary in the world’s youngest country next door, the Republic of South Sudan, only to face a daunting new set of challenges.
An estimated 250,000 people — including a large number of South Sudanese who had been living in Sudan — have crossed the border since fighting erupted in Sudan in April, with many now housed in overcrowded camps lacking food, sanitation and basic healthcare services.
High malnutrition rates and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and measles among the new arrivals testify to the dire health conditions, which aid agencies operating in the area say is one of the many serious causes for concern.
The UN has given warning that the number of people fleeing Sudan could double by the end of the year unless a settlement between the warring parties is reached soon.
Aside from being unprepared to absorb this tide of humanity in search of shelter and sustenance, South Sudan’s own political and economic shortcomings render it an ineffective broker in ending the conflict in Sudan.
This is despite the mediation efforts of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who recently hosted Sudan’s de-facto leader and head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in the capital Juba.
South Sudan is no stranger to hardship and adversity, having had its fair share of conflicts since gaining independence in 2011. Like its northern neighbor, from which it seceded, South Sudan is also grappling with political volatility and ethnic strife.
Add to the mix South Sudan’s limited resources and rudimentary infrastructure, and the country is in no position to handle such a large and sudden influx of impoverished people.
“The majority of these refugees are women, children, and young adults, with a notable concentration of youth between the ages of 12 and 22,” John Dabi, South Sudan’s deputy commissioner for refugee affairs, told Arab News.
250,000 Sudanese refugees and South Sudanese returnees who have crossed the border since the conflict began.
5 million Total number of people uprooted by the conflict, including 1 million who have fled to neighboring countries.
7,500 People killed since the onset of violence, according to conservative estimates of the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Particularly, Juba and the border town of Renk have come under pressure from a sudden explosion in population, which has led to an acute shortage of basic necessities, including food, medicine and shelter.
Then there is the impact of a fickle climate, as South Sudan’s rainy season leads to the flooding of entire districts and turns roads into impassable mud tracks, hindering aid deliveries and access to remote refugee camps.
Predictably, South Sudan’s economy is a shambles, despite the recent launch of the National Economic Conference, which is meant to accelerate development.
Firas Raad, the World Bank representative in South Sudan, recently urged the government to strive for more stable macroeconomic conditions, robust public financial management, and effective governance reforms to improve conditions for its people.
The parlous state of the country’s economy calls into question Juba’s credibility as a mediator in Sudan’s conflict, Suzanne Jambo, a South Sudanese policy analyst and former government adviser, told Arab News.
“South Sudan still struggles to achieve a stable transition to a permanent status, including a unified army, agreed-upon constitutional arrangements, and fairly elected representatives, not to mention conducting the elections,” she said.
Instability in South Sudan is not just attributable to issues of governance and economics. The ethnic and tribal spillovers of the Sudanese conflict are all too evident, with millions fleeing to neighboring countries and exposing the political divisions within Sudan and along its porous borders.
For instance, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group has been recruiting fighters from among Darfur’s Arab tribes.
Given the possibility of further escalation of ethnic tensions, experts believe coordinated efforts are essential for the proper distribution of humanitarian aid as well as conflict prevention and resolution strategies.
Sudanese civilians arriving in South Sudan represent a mosaic of backgrounds mirroring the country’s ethnic, racial and religious diversity. To minimize the chances of inter-communal violence, separate settlements, rather than traditional refugee camps, have been established.
“A critical aspect of managing the refugee crisis is preventing inter-community conflicts,” said Dabi, the deputy commissioner for refugee affairs. However, the most pressing issue facing displaced Sudanese in South Sudan is the scarcity of essential resources, he added.
The situation of people who crossed over from Sudan into other neighboring countries appears to be equally dire.
In Chad, where more than 400,000 people have fled the violence in Darfur, aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres says the situation has become so desperate that “people are feeding their children on insects, grass, and leaves.”
Amid severe shortages, “some have gone five weeks without receiving food,” Susana Borges, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Adre, said in a statement. Camps also lack water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care.
“The most urgent health needs we are dealing with are malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition,” Borges added. According to the UN, dozens of children under the age of five have already died of malnutrition in Chadian camps.
The conflict in Sudan, now in its fifth month, was triggered by a plan to incorporate the RSF into the SAF.
On April 15 a long-running power struggle between the Al-Burhan and his former deputy, RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, suddenly escalated, prompting the evacuation of foreign nationals and embassy staff.
At least 7,500 people have been killed since the conflict began, according to a conservative estimate from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and the troubled western Darfur region, where the worst of the violence has been taking place, have seen “intensified shelling” as the SAF and the RSF target each other’s bases with “artillery and rocket fire.”
In central Khartoum, the SAF controls the skies and has carried out regular air strikes, while RSF fighters dominate the streets.
In South Darfur’s regional capital, Nyala, residents say fighter jets have been targeting “RSF leadership.” However, reports from the ground suggest civilians are routinely caught in the crossfire.
UN figures show the fighting has uprooted more than five million people from their homes, including one million who have crossed international borders into neighboring countries.
Over the weekend, a cholera outbreak was reported in eastern Sudan and investigations launched to check whether it had spread to Khartoum and South Kordofan state.
The conflict has also seen a surge in gender-based violence, as confirmed by numerous credible reports of rape, human trafficking, and increase in early marriage.
Despite multiple diplomatic efforts to broker a truce, the conflict has continued and intensified, leaving those displaced with little prospect of returning to their homes any time soon.
As South Sudan struggles to accommodate its own citizens previously living in Sudan, a recent visit to the country by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, suggests the international community is taking notice.
However, Peter Van der Auweraert, the UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, has cautioned there could be a significant decline in humanitarian assistance for the country next year.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, says humanitarian aid organizations are struggling to meet the needs of the displaced, with only 19 percent of the $1 billion requested from donors so far received.