LONDON: The UK and the Netherlands, in partnership with the UN, co-hosted an international event on Thursday to raise funds for the salvage operation to remove 1.1 million barrels of oil from the Safer, a decaying storage vessel moored off the coast of war-torn Yemen.
The conference of nations, companies and international organizations raised more than $7.5 million, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.
The Safer has had little or no maintenance since the conflict in Yemen began in 2015, and UN officials have been warning for years of the growing threat to countries on the Red Sea coast of an environmental disaster. If the Safer breaks up or begins to leak it could spill four times as much oil as the Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska in 1989.
The UN salvage operation is finally moving forward after lengthy negotiations with the Houthis in Yemen, who control the area in which the Safer is moored, and is expected to cost $129 million. This includes the purchase in March of a large tanker, the Nautica, to hold the oil removed from the Safer. As a result of the war in Ukraine, the price of such vessels has risen steeply and none were available for leasing. The Nautica set sail for the Red Sea from China in early April.
So far, about $99 million has been raised from governments, private donors and crowdfunding. The operation cannot be funded by the sale of the oil because it is unclear who actually owns it, the UN said.
UN said it fell short of raising the money it needs on Thursday, however, spokesperson Farhan Haq saying: “It is urgent that this gap is closed to successfully implement the operation. While we appreciate the contributions received so far, there is a crucial need for the funds to allow us to complete the task that we have begun,”
Despite the shortfall, Andrew Mitchell, the British minister of state for development and Africa said: “(Thursday’s) conference has made vital progress toward avoiding an environmental, economic and humanitarian catastrophe on a massive scale.
“The Safer tanker is at real risk of leaking, I am proud of the UK’s leadership on this crisis and we now look to the UN to begin the emergency operation as soon as possible.”
Liesje Schreinemacher, the Dutch minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, said: “The international community has a unique opportunity to stave off disaster. Let’s demonstrate our commitment to protecting people and the planet.”
It is estimated that a spill from the Safer could cost $20.1 billion to clean up, cause devastating damage to marine life in the Red Sea, and exacerbate an already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said. It would also obstruct an estimated 10 per cent of global shipping, adding billions to the costs each day, it added.