FSO Safer saga enters endgame with launch of UN-coordinated oil-removal operation

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Updated 04 June 2023

FSO Safer saga enters endgame with launch of UN-coordinated oil-removal operation

Decaying vessel FSO Safer is moored off the coast of Ras Issa, Yemen, prior to the start of an operation led by the UN
  • Crude carrier docks near decaying vessel off Yemen’s Red Sea coast to begin a complex recovery mission
  • UN officials say operation’s progress is good news for people, environment and idea of multilateralism

NEW YORK CITY: Unless there are complications, the transfer of crude from the FSO Safer, an oil-storage vessel stricken off Yemen’s Red Sea coast, will be complete within 10 to 14 days, David Gressly, the UN resident coordinator for Yemen, told Arab News.

Speaking via VideoLink on Tuesday from aboard the Ndeavor, a crude carrier recently purchased by the UN for its operation, Gressly said that an additional $14 million was needed “immediately” and a remaining total of $29 million to complete the operation and eliminate the ecological threat.

The Ndeavor left Djibouti on Monday and docked at Yemen’s Hodeidah port before proceeding to the Safer’s offshore mooring on Tuesday, where it will begin the delicate process of removing 1.1 million barrels of oil, which are at considerable risk of spilling into the sea.

Once this ticking ecological time bomb has been secured, saving Red Sea ecosystems and fishing communities up and down the coast from almost certain disaster, the Ndeavor will tow the Safer to a “green scrapping yard.”

Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme, which is leading the operation as part of a UN-coordinated initiative, called it a “very special day (and) a truly critical milestone for those who have been following the saga of the FSO Safer for years.”

The support vessel Ndeavor en route to the Red Sea after UNDP and Boskalis signed the contract for the company's subsidiary SMIT Salvage to transfer 1.1 million barrels of oil from the decaying FSO Safer to a replacement vessel. (Supplied)

The Ndeavor’s arrival is “simply one more step in a very critical complex operation, but it’s a great signal both for the people and the planet, really, in Yemen, in the Red Sea, but also for this idea that multilateralism, in this moment the UN, truly is illustrating what it means to take preventive action,” Steiner said.

“Nothing could be a more drastic illustration of what it means to stop this catastrophe potentially from happening. And doing so at the fraction of the cost that it would take to clean up an oil spill of this magnitude.”

The 47-year-old Safer has had little or no maintenance since the war in Yemen began in 2015 and has deteriorated to such an extent that experts fear it is in imminent danger of springing a leak, catching fire, or exploding.

The UN has warned that a spill could be four times bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off the coast of Alaska, which is considered the world’s worst oil spill in terms of environmental damage.

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

Such a spill would devastate fisheries along Yemen’s west coast and destroy livelihoods in fishing communities, many of which are already dependent on humanitarian assistance in order to survive owing to the war.

Staff of a vessel in charge of unloading oil from the decaying vessel FSO Safer are pictured off the coast of Ras Issa, Yemen, prior to the start of an operation led by the United Nations to avoid an oil spill in the Red Sea. (AFP)

A spill could also disrupt commercial shipping on the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways, which accounts for 10 percent of all global trade, and could adversely affect littoral states, including Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Eritrea.

If a fire broke out aboard the rusting vessel, more than 8.4 million people could be exposed to toxic pollutants.

The salvage operation has been split into two phases. First, the oil will be transferred to a replacement tanker, Nautica, before it is then moved to a permanent storage facility until the political situation in Yemen allows for it to be sold or moved elsewhere.

Although the Ndeavor’s arrival at the site of the Safer marks an important milestone, Gressly was quick to call this “just the first step of the operations,” adding that many steps remain before the work is finished.

“We need to get the (Safer) prepared for the transfer of oil (and) bring in the new vessel to receive the oil,” he said.

“We need to detach the old vessel, tow it away for scrapping, and then bring in a lay that will be used to attach the new vessel to the pipeline. Until all four pieces are complete, we really won’t have a fully secure oil storage and protection for the environment.”

Decaying vessel FSO Safer is moored off the coasts of Ras Issa prior to the start of an operation led by the UN to unload it, in the Red Sea. (AFP)

Gressly highlighted the “very volatile environment that we’re working in, politically and security-wise,” adding that it would be “naive to believe that we’d be able to do all of this without any hiccup or obstacle.”

However, “we have so far been able to overcome every obstacle that has come our way,” he said, thanking the Yemeni government for its support.

“Even though the parties are in conflict, the fact that they see the greater danger and greater belief to contribute that they put in $5 million of their own funding to this project, I think shows how everybody can come together to confront a common threat,” he said.

Gressly thanked Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Germany, the US, the UK, the EU, and 19 other states for their contributions. He also thanked Djibouti for hosting the operation, various firms that contributed to the UN effort, and the “very significant contribution of Egypt’s Suez Canal authorities, which have provided free passage for the Ndeavor.”

Indeed, reaching this point has been an extremely long slog, with political and financial barriers along the way. “Often people ask why is it taking so long,” Steiner said.


* 1.1 m Barrels of oil stored aboard the FSO Safer.

* $114m Money raised by UN for salvage operation.

* $29m Money needed to complete the operation.

* 30 m People who might have been affected by a leak.

“Let me tell you, with the arrival of the Ndeavor, we mark an extraordinarily intense process of trying to first of all, in the negotiations led by David (Gressly) in Yemen with all the parties concerned, to create the conditions and an agreement within which we could actually mount such a salvage operation.”

Then the team had to mount “a major fundraising operation that leads us to, at this point in time, having almost secured the majority of the funding — the total cost for the two phases or the two parts of this operation are about $142 million.

“For the emergency phase, which is literally to get the oil off the FSO Safer, we are still missing $14 million, and this is something that we are trying desperately to secure in the next few days in order to be able to complete that phase.

“We had also to secure a large vessel that is essentially uniquely built for the purpose of transporting oil, and in today’s marketplace that proved almost impossible. Prices have doubled and vessels were unavailable.

“We finally managed to secure one and purchase it even though we were not yet clear whether we could get all the funding.”

Left: Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme; Right: David Gressly, the UN resident coordinator for Yemen. (Supplied)

In order to source the required funding, “enormous and complex preparatory steps had to be taken over the last few months from actually finding your shipbroker, maritime lawyers, oil spill experts, developing contingency plans, security plans, and negotiating insurance policies,” said Steiner.

“In fact, we completed only on Friday evening at midnight the negotiation of the necessary insurance policy package, which then allowed us to immediately give the signal for the Ndeavor to depart early Monday morning sunrise from Djibouti and arrive there (on Tuesday).”

Asked by Arab News why the relatively meager sum needed for the salvage operation had proven so difficult to raise, Steiner said: “There are certainly, in the corporate world and in the sectors from shipping to oil and gas, extraordinary moments of profitability. And I think this is one reason why we also had hoped that there would be a stronger stepping forward. 

“Having said that, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers has pledged $10 million and we are working the phones right now. Let’s say to CEOs: ‘Come on. We have to close this gap right now.’ Even school children in Maryland have donated to this. It would be truly an ironic and missed opportunity not to step up.”

It was not only the matter of funding that held up the operation. For years, the Houthi militia, which controls whole swathes of Yemen, including Hodeidah, had been causing delays, preventing experts from assessing the condition of the Safer and making emergency repairs.

The militias repeatedly made new demands focusing on logistics and security arrangements.

“We understand that many member states, including donors to the project, are extremely concerned by these new delays. We, of course, share those concerns,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told a press briefing in 2021.

The support vessel Ndeavor en route to the Red Sea after UNDP and Boskalis signed the contract for the company's subsidiary SMIT Salvage to transfer 1.1 million barrels of oil from the decaying FSO Safer to a replacement vessel. (Supplied)

Frustrated is not the right word for how negotiators feel, he said at the time, adding: “I think ‘increased worry’ is the right expression.

“We’ve been talking about this for two years now. By the grace of God, there has not been a major leak. The more we wait, the chances of a major leak are increasing. Time is not on anyone’s side.”

Gressly says that ever since the Houthis signed an agreement with the UN in March 2022, they have been cooperating. “I am confident they will continue to honor that (agreement),” he told Arab News.

And although the Houthis are not involved in the direct implementation of operations, they are involved “in securing the perimeter. They’re involved in discussions with us on how this will be done. And they are very much involved in the details as well.

“We’ve worked in great detail over the last few weeks with them to go through each of the steps so that they’re comfortable with everything. They have their own technical experts as well. Good expertise, actually, both in Aden and Sanaa.”

Gressly paid tribute to the crew — “probably poorly paid and supported” — that has kept the Safer afloat for the past several years.

“In fact, we met one of them today. And I had to congratulate him as one of the unsung heroes of the FSO Safer because they’ve been keeping this thing afloat while we figured out how to organize this kind of rescue.”

Morocco calls for resumption of Western Sahara talks

Morocco calls for resumption of Western Sahara talks
Updated 7 sec ago

Morocco calls for resumption of Western Sahara talks

Morocco calls for resumption of Western Sahara talks
  • Permanent representative to UN calls for solution to ‘fabricated regional conflict’
  • ‘Climate change continues to represent the biggest challenge to humanity in the globe’

NEW YORK: Morocco’s permanent representative to the UN on Tuesday called for a resumption of negotiations over the situation in Western Sahara.

Speaking on the final day of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, Omar Hilale said Morocco is resolute in finding a solution to the “fabricated regional conflict” as an aid to promoting peace and stability in the region and Africa more widely. 

“Morocco continues to support the efforts of the UN to relaunch roundtables with the same format and the same participants, especially Algeria, the main party to this conflict, in line with its Security Council resolution 2654,” he added.

“We reaffirm, the solution can only be politically realistic and practical, based on consensus. The initiative for autonomy as part of the toolkit of Morocco’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty remains the solution to this regional conflict. There’s no alternative.”

The Western Sahara conflict dates back to 1975, after the withdrawal of colonial occupier Spain, sparking a 15-year war between the Algeria-backed Polisario Front and Morocco for control over the territory.

A 1991 ceasefire deal brought fighting to an end, with Morocco in control of 80 percent of the resource-rich desert region and the Polisario Front clinging to hopes of a UN-supervised referendum on independence provided for in the deal.

Alongside calling for further work on bringing an end to the near half-century conflict, Hilale provided an update on efforts being undertaken by Moroccan authorities to respond to the devastating earthquake that struck at the start of the month.

“We’ve faced the repercussions of this earthquake, which led to the death of 3,000 people and injured 5,700 others, alongside grave material losses, but we face these repercussions with determination, seriousness and solidarity,” he said.

“We established an inter-ministerial committee to develop an urgent program for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of affected areas, and located about $12 billion for this program from our budget for the next five years.

“This shows climate change continues to represent the biggest challenge to humanity in the globe. This is why today, more than ever, there’s a need to promote prevention, resilience, and international cooperation as part of the international community’s priorities.”

25 dead in fierce new fighting in Deir Ezzor

25 dead in fierce new fighting in Deir Ezzor
Updated 1 min 14 sec ago

25 dead in fierce new fighting in Deir Ezzor

25 dead in fierce new fighting in Deir Ezzor
  • Forces loyal to Assad regime clash with Kurdish-led troops in eastern Syria

JEDDAH: At least 25 people have died in two days of fierce clashes between fighters loyal to the Assad regime and Kurdish-led forces in the Dheiban area of Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said they had “driven out the regime gunmen who had infiltrated the area” after gun battles erupted on Monday.
At least 90 people were killed in the same area this month in 10 days of fighting between the SDF and armed Arab tribesmen.
Britain-based monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest clashes erupted when pro-regime fighters crossed the Euphrates river, which separates their positions in southwestern Deir Ezzor from the SDF in the northeast. It said 21 of the dead were regime loyalists and three were SDF fighters. A woman was also killed.
The SDF said the loyalist fighters had crossed the Euphrates “under cover of an indiscriminate bombardment”of its positions. The SDF responded by bombarding the right bank of the river, which is controlled by regimetroops with support from Iran-backed militias.
The Kurds form a majority in the core areas of SDF control in northeastern and northern Syria. But in several areas that they captured in their campaign against Daesh, Arabs form the majority.
According to the Observatory, which has a wide network of sources inside Syria, some of the Arab fighters who fled to government-held territory after the previous clashes took part in this week’s assault.
The SDF was Washington’s main Syrian ally in its fightback against Daesh, which culminated in the militants’defeat in their last Syrian foothold on the left bank of the Euphrates in 2019.

Sudan’s displaced millions struggle to survive as economy seizes up

Sudan’s displaced millions struggle to survive as economy seizes up
Updated 26 September 2023

Sudan’s displaced millions struggle to survive as economy seizes up

Sudan’s displaced millions struggle to survive as economy seizes up
  • More than 5.25 million of Sudan’s 49 million people have been uprooted since the fighting erupted

PORT SUDAN: About two months after heavy clashes around his home in Sudan’s capital drove Sherif Abdelmoneim to flee, soaring rent and food costs forced the 36-year-old and his family of six to return to a city where fighting still rages.

Most of those who fled Khartoum after war between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces broke out in mid-April have not returned. They face malnutrition, floods and scorpions as they depend for survival on handouts and meager aid relief, the generosity of host communities stretched increasingly thin.

More than 5.25 million of Sudan’s 49 million people have been uprooted since the fighting erupted, according to UN figures. Over 1 million of those have crossed into neighboring countries, but more than 4.1 million have stayed in Sudan, where they have come under increasing financial pressure.

“The states (outside Khartoum) are safe but the prices are expensive and rents are high, and we cannot continue with that,” Abdelmoneim said by phone from Omdurman, a city adjoining Khartoum where he has rented a house in an area where he can still hear artillery fire but is no longer in the midst of clashes.

The conflict has brought Sudan’s stagnant economy to its knees, blocking much trade and transport, hampering farming, halting many salary payments, and causing vast damage to infrastructure.

The country now has to draw on what meager resources are left to support an internally displaced population which, when those made homeless by previous conflict are included, reaches nearly 7.1 million, more than any other in the world.

Aid workers expect that more of those who had paid rent or lodged for free when they fled the capital will end up in collective shelters as their funds dry up.

“We are hospitable but people are handling more than they can,” said Omar Othman, a government official in Kassala, where he said rents had risen sharply. “If the war continues, these people came with small savings so they will need shelter.”

Host communities in areas little affected by fighting have been reeling from the knock-on effects of the war.

In Rabak, about 275km (170 miles) south of Khartoum, many young people had been trying to make a living in factories or as day laborers in the capital before the war broke out.

“For the locals the labor market is paralyzed. Khartoum is the engine for the rest of the country,” said resident Fadeel Omer.

Displaced people in the city unable to afford rent were lodged in shelters with crumbling walls and scorpions, and several malnourished children had been dying daily in the city hospital, he said. Large groups had headed back to Khartoum.

In Merowe, 340km north of Khartoum, salaried workers and farmers have seen their income dry up, and local volunteers are struggling to provide basic meals to the displaced, some of whom were sleeping on sofas or tables, said lawyer and local volunteer Izdihar Jumaa.

Damage to infrastructure in the three regions worst affected by the war – Khartoum, Darfur and Kordofan – could be $60 billion, or 10 percent of its total value, said Ibrahim Al-Badawi, Sudan’s former finance minister and an economics researcher. He estimated that the gross domestic product could plunge 20 percent this year.

“If the war stops, Sudan would need emergency economic support of $5-10 billion to revive the economy,” he told Reuters in an interview in Dubai.

“The continuation of the war will lead to the destruction of the Sudanese economy and the state.”

Since the start of the war, prices for many products soared. The currency has fallen as low as 900 Sudanese pounds to the dollar on the black market in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, a hub for government officials and aid workers, from about 560 pounds in April.

A continuing lifeline for many is remittances sent by Sudanese living abroad, said Omar Khalil, who fled to Port Sudan from Omdurman in June with his wife and three children.

“They are the ones bearing this burden on their shoulders,” he said. “This cannot last forever.” Khalil and his wife, both former art teachers, now make ice cream at home to sell to supermarkets.

International aid efforts for Sudan are severely underfunded, with less than 25 percent of the $2.6 billion required for this year received by mid-August, according to the United Nations. Aid workers say relief operations have also been hindered by government red tape and the breakdown of services and logistics based in the capital.

Authorities are nervous about relief operations by local volunteers and want the displaced to be housed in camps, but there are no funds to run them on the scale that would be needed, said Will Carter of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Across Sudan, some displaced people who had been renting were being evicted, though most were still lodging with extended families or strangers, he said. “We’re going to have an impasse – people squatting will be destitute within these cities,” he added.

Erdogan: corridor through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran must be completed

Erdogan: corridor through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran must be completed
Updated 26 September 2023

Erdogan: corridor through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran must be completed

Erdogan: corridor through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran must be completed
  • President says Menendez resignation from Senate committee boosts Turkiye’s bid to acquire F-16s

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the so-called Zangezur trade corridor passing through Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran must be completed, broadcasters reported on Tuesday, a day after he met Azerbaijan’s leader.

Speaking to reporters on his return flight from the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan, where he met President Ilham Aliyev, Erdogan said that if Armenia does not allow the trade corridor to pass through its territory then Iran was warm to the idea of allowing it passage through its territory.

Following Azerbaijan’s rout of Armenian forces in a 24-hour blitz in Nagorno-Karabakh last week, Baku has raised hopes of opening a land bridge between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan, known as the Zangezur Corridor.

Erdogan said Turkiye and Azerbaijan would “do our best to open this corridor as soon as possible.” 

The Zangezur corridor aims to give Baku unimpeded access to Nakhchivan through Armenia. Both Turkiye and Azerbaijan have been calling for its implementation since the Second Karabakh War in 2020.

Erdogan also said all materials required by civilians in the Karabakh region were being provided by trucks after Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive to retake control of the region last week.

Meanwhile, Erdogan said in remarks published on Tuesday that Turkiye’s chances of acquiring F-16 fighter jets from the US have been boosted by Sen. Bob Menendez stepping down as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez, the senior Democratic senator for New Jersey, has been a vocal opponent of Turkiye receiving aircraft to update its fighter fleet. 

He stood down from the influential role last week following federal charges that he took cash and gold in illegal exchange for helping the Egyptian government and New Jersey business associates.

“One of our most important problems regarding the F-16s were the activities of US Sen. Bob Menendez against our country,” Erdogan told journalists on a flight back from Azerbaijan on Monday. 

His comments were widely reported across Turkish media.

“Menendez’s exit gives us an advantage but the F-16 issue is not an issue that depends only on Menendez,” Erdogan added.

Ankara has been seeking to buy 40 new F-16s, as well as kits to upgrade its existing fleet. 

The request was backed by the White House but ran into opposition in Congress, where Menendez raised concerns about Turkiye’s human rights records as well as blaming Ankara for fractious relations with neighboring Greece.

Referring to talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan in recent days, Erdogan said: “It would be beneficial to turn this situation into an opportunity and meet with (Blinken) again.

“In this way, we may have the opportunity to accelerate the process regarding the F-16s. Not only on the F-16s, but on all other issues, Menendez and those with his mindset are carrying out obstructive activities against us.”

Erdogan also openly linked Turkiye’s F-16 bid to Sweden’s application for NATO membership, which is expected to be debated by the Turkish parliament after it returns from summer recess on Oct. 1.

He said Blinken and Fidan had discussed Sweden’s NATO bid, adding: “I hope that if they stay true to their promise, our parliament will also stay true to its promise.”

Questioned on whether the bid was tied to Turkiye receiving the F-16s, Erdogan said: “They are already making Sweden dependent on the F-16 … Our parliament follows every development regarding this issue in minute detail.”

Erdogan also raised the prospect of a visit to Turkiye by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in October or November. 

The Turkish president also addressed the issue of Cyprus, divided between ethnic Turkish and Greek communities for 49 years.

He reiterated his support for a two-state solution, with international recognition for the Turkish administration in the island’s north. 

Turkiye is the only country to recognize the breakaway entity. The international community broadly supports the unification of the island under a federal system.

Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, UK delegation discuss commercial partnerships

Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, UK delegation discuss commercial partnerships
Updated 26 September 2023

Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, UK delegation discuss commercial partnerships

Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, UK delegation discuss commercial partnerships
  • Kuwaiti officials spoke of the importance of increasing the volume of trade between the two countries

LONDON: The Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry held a meeting with a British delegation on Tuesday to explore investment opportunities and commercial partnerships.

The delegation was led by the UK’s Ambassador to Kuwait Belinda Lewis and included Awal Fuseini, senior halal sector manager at the British Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

The UK is one of Kuwait’s major trading partners, with a total trade in goods and services of £5.7 billion ($6.9 billion) in the year 2022-23.

Kuwaiti officials spoke of the importance of increasing the volume of trade between the two countries, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Lewis said the meeting aimed to explore commercial and investment opportunities available in the UK, and establishing projects in both countries.

She praised the cooperation between the two sides, emphasizing the UK’s interest in increasing collaboration with Kuwait in all fields.

Fuseini thanked the chamber for organizing the meeting, noting that there were several opportunities to boost commercial exchange. He delivered a presentation on the UK’s meat industry, noting that Britain is the third largest exporter of meat in the world.

Reem Al-Fulaij, director general of Kuwait’s Public Authority for Food and Nutrition, stressed the importance of food safety in accordance with international organizations and agencies.