How unloading of oil from FSO Safer is defusing Red Sea’s ticking ecological time bomb

Special How unloading of oil from FSO Safer is defusing Red Sea’s ticking ecological time bomb
The UN-owned Nautica is moored beside the Yemen-flagged FSO Safer in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeida, main, to pump more than a million barrels of oil from the decaying tanker in a bid to avert a catastrophic spill. (AFP/Supplied)
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Updated 29 July 2023
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How unloading of oil from FSO Safer is defusing Red Sea’s ticking ecological time bomb

How unloading of oil from FSO Safer is defusing Red Sea’s ticking ecological time bomb
  • A UN team is siphoning crude out of the Safer into another vessel for the salvage mission
  • Disputes still expected over who owns the oil and the vessel into which it is being pumped

JEDDAH: The risks of an ecological and humanitarian catastrophe happening off the coast of Yemen are receding as a UN-led operation to pump more than a million barrels of crude oil out of an abandoned storage vessel and into a replacement tanker makes steady progress.

The three-week, $143 million operation got underway on Tuesday to defuse what experts have dubbed a ticking time bomb. Had the condition of the stricken FSO Safer been allowed to deteriorate further, huge quantities of oil could have spilled into the sea, causing incalculable environmental and economic damage.

“It’s a great relief to see the start of the long awaited UN-led salvage operation of the decaying FSO Safer anchored off the coast of Yemen with 1.14 million barrels of oil,” Ghiwa Nakat, executive director of Greenpeace MENA, told Arab News on Friday.

“We are on day three and there’s steady progress.”

An international team is siphoning crude out of the Safer to another vessel — the Nautica, since renamed the Yemen — bought by the UN for the salvage mission. The operation follows months of on-site preparatory work. According to the UN, it will be completed in less than three weeks.




1.1 m Barrels of oil stored in the decaying Safer. (Supplied)

“Reaching this pivotal moment in the UN plan to stop a Red Sea spill is an outstanding example of the power of international cooperation and diplomacy,” Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Program, said in a tweet this week.

In comments to the media on Sunday, Steiner said that on completion of the process, the Yemen would be connected to an undersea pipeline that brings crude oil from the fields.

Efforts to establish the recovery mission initially faced delay as the Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls the maritime territory, denied UN teams access to the site. Months of diplomacy eventually allowed work to get underway.

Disputes are still expected over who owns the oil and the replacement vessel into which it is being pumped. Nevertheless, many Yemenis view progress on the Safer issue as a positive sign.




The UN team, assisted by specialist Kevin O’Connell, has been using hydraulic pumps. (AFP)

“I hope it will be the beginning of the peace process,” Fathi Fahem, the Yemeni business leader who proposed a replacement vessel for the Safer two years ago, was quoted as telling the media.

On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement: “The ship-to-ship transfer of oil which has started today is the critical next step in avoiding an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe on a colossal scale.

“The UN has begun an operation to defuse what might be the world’s largest ticking time bomb. This is an all-hands-on-deck mission and the culmination of nearly two years of political groundwork, fundraising and project development.”

Guterres called for an additional $20 million to finish the project that would include the scrapping of the Safer and the removal of any remaining ecological threats to the Red Sea.

INNUMBERS

• 30 Years that FSO Safer has been moored off Yemen’s coast.

• $143 m Cost of operation to pump out the oil from Safer.

• 1.1 m Barrels of oil stored in the decaying Safer.

The Safer, a 47-year-old floating oil storage and offloading vessel, is moored in the Red Sea north of the Yemeni ports of Hodeidah and Ras Issa — a strategic area controlled by the Houthis.

The ship was built in the 1970s and later sold to the Yemeni government to hold up to 3 million barrels of crude oil pumped from the fields of Marib, a province in eastern Yemen.

The Safer, which is 1,181 feet long with 34 storage tanks, held more than 1.14 million barrels of oil before the UN operation commenced. However, with only minimal maintenance since Yemen’s civil war began in 2015, the vessel’s structural integrity has been corroded, raising the probability of leaks.

According to the UN, a leak would cause massive damage to vulnerable marine ecosystems and to the livelihoods of coastal communities in a key area for global shipping, including the vital Suez Canal and Bab Al-Mandab Strait.




Oil from FSO Safer is being moved to the Nautica, which has been renamed the Yemen. (AFP)

Sarah Bel, a spokesperson for UNDP, said a spill would likely “wipe out 200,000 livelihoods instantly” and “fish stock would take 25 years to recover.”

In a statement, she called the present operation an “emergency phase” and that everything was being done to “secure success” of the operation.

For years, the UN, regional governments and environmental groups warned that an explosion or oil spill would not only disrupt global shipping routes but also have devastating impacts on the global economy and marine environment.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia welcomed the start of the recovery operation. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s welcoming of the UN’s implementation of its operational plan to solve the problem of the FSO Safer to start unloading its cargo of crude oil, which is estimated at 1.14 million barrels,” an official statement said.

It added that it appreciated the international efforts and UN endeavors in recent years that had culminated in the start of the unloading of FSO Safer and averted a marine environmental disaster that would have threatened maritime security and the global economy in the Red Sea.




The UN team use pumps to move the oil from the rusting 47-year-old vessel. (Supplied)

“The Kingdom values the work of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the UN working team to harness all efforts to address the issue of FSO Safer. The Kingdom also appreciates the generous financial support from donor countries to end the threat of FSO Safer,” it said.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was one of the first donor countries to provide financial grants through (aid agency) King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to support the international community in solving the issue of FSO Safer.”

According to the UNDP, an oil spill could result in the closing of all ports in the area, which would cut off deliveries of food, fuel and lifesaving medical supplies to Yemen, where 80 percent of the population relies on aid.

Moreover, such a catastrophe could inflict irreparable damage on the ecosystems of the Red Sea and coastal communities, already wracked by war, and humanitarian and climate crises.

To give an indication of the scale of the potential disaster, the Safer contains four times as much oil as was spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska, one of the world’s worst ecological crises, according to the UN.

“The hazardous operation is expected to last around three crucial weeks,” Nakat said. “It has its own risks. Given the conditions of the Safer, one scenario is that this moment triggers the massive oil spill it is trying to avert, or an explosion.

“Yet these risks are less than leaving the oil on a rusting supertanker that has been deserted without maintenance since 2015.

“We are confident that the UN and SMIT Boskalis, the salvage operator, have taken all necessary safety and security precautions and mitigation plans. We wish the crew’s safety and a successful operation.”




The UN-owned Nautica is moored beside the Yemen-flagged FSO Safer in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeida, main, to pump more than a million barrels of oil from the decaying tanker in a bid to avert a catastrophic spill. (AFP/Supplied)

She added: “Even after the successful completion of phase one and the transfer of oil, the environmental risk remains due to the viscous oil that will remain in the decaying tanker. Therefore, the UN should move into the next phase and that is the green recycling of the Safer and safe storage of oil. This second phase requires additional urgent funding.”

Acknowledging the unfinished nature of the mission in a statement on Monday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly said: “The transfer of the oil to the Yemen will prevent the worst-case scenario of a catastrophic spill in the Red Sea, but it is not the end of the operation.”

In the final stage, according to UNDP’s Steiner, the Safer would be towed away to a scrapyard to be recycled.


Turkiye’s Erdogan in rare Iraq visit to discuss water, oil, security

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Turkiye’s Erdogan in rare Iraq visit to discuss water, oil, security

Turkiye’s Erdogan in rare Iraq visit to discuss water, oil, security
  • Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani and President Abdel Latif Rashid in Baghdad
  • Trip comes as regional tensions spiral, fueled by the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip and attacks between Israel and Iran
Baghdad: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due Monday in neighboring Iraq for his first state visit there in years, with water, oil and regional security issues expected to top the agenda.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani and President Abdel Latif Rashid in Baghdad before visiting officials in Irbil, the capital of northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region.
“Iraq and Turkiye share a history and have similarities, interests and opportunities, but also problems,” Sudani said during an event at the Atlantic Council on the sidelines of a recent visit to Washington.
“Water and security will be at the top of the agenda,” he said of the upcoming meeting with Erdogan, who last visited Iraq in 2011.
The trip comes as regional tensions spiral, fueled by the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip and attacks between Israel and Iran.
Farhad Alaaldin, foreign affairs adviser to Sudani, told AFP that the main topics Erdogan will discuss with Iraqi officials include “investments, trade... security aspects of the cooperation between the two countries, water management and water resources.”
Alaaldin expects the signing of several memoranda of understanding during the visit.
The sharing of water resources is a major point of contention, with Baghdad highly critical of upstream dams set up by Turkiye on their shared Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which have worsened water scarcity in Iraq.
Erdogan said the issue of water would be “one of the most important points” of his visit following “requests” made by the Iraqi side.
“We will make an effort to resolve them, that is also their wish,” he said.
Iraqi oil exports are another point of tension, with a major pipeline shut down for over a year over legal disputes and technical issues.
The exports were previously independently sold by the autonomous Kurdistan region, without the approval or oversight of the central administration in Baghdad, through the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
The halted oil sales represent more than $14 billion in lost revenue for Iraq, according to an estimate by the Association of the Petroleum Industry of Kurdistan which represents international oil companies active in the region.
Majid Al-Lajmawi, Iraq’s ambassador to Turkiye, hopes for “progress on the water and energy issues, and in the process of resuming Iraqi oil exports via Turkiye,” according to a statement published by the Iraqi foreign ministry.
The ambassador also expects the signing of a “strategic framework agreement” on security, economy and development.
Also on the agenda is a $17 billion road and rail project known as the “Route of Development” which is expected to consolidate economic ties between the two neighbors.
Stretching 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) across Iraq, it aims to connect by 2030 the northern border with Turkiye to the Gulf in the south.
In the first quarter of 2024, Iraq was Turkiye’s fifth-largest importer of products, buying food, chemicals, metals and other products.
Regional security is another topic expected to be thrashed out during Erdogan’s meetings in Iraq.
For decades, Turkiye has operated from several dozen military bases in northern Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state and is considered a “terrorist” group by Ankara and its Western allies.
Both Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government have been accused of tolerating Turkiye’s military activities to preserve their close economic ties.
But the operations, which sometimes take place deep into Iraqi territory, have regularly strained bilateral ties while Ankara has sought out increased cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against the PKK.
However, in a televised interview in March, Iraqi Defense Minister Thabet Al-Abbasi ruled out “joint military operations” between Baghdad and Ankara.
He said they would establish a “coordination intelligence center at the appropriate time and place.”
Alaaldin, the Iraqi prime minister’s adviser, said security issues will be “highly featured in this trip.”
“There will be some sort of agreement... and perhaps arrangements to safeguard the borders between Iraq and Turkiye where no attacks and no armed groups infiltrate the border from both sides,” he said.
“It is something that will be discussed but the exact details have to be worked out.”

Iran-backed Hezbollah downs Israeli drone in southern Lebanon

Iran-backed Hezbollah downs Israeli drone in southern Lebanon
Updated 22 April 2024
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Iran-backed Hezbollah downs Israeli drone in southern Lebanon

Iran-backed Hezbollah downs Israeli drone in southern Lebanon
  • Hezbollah said the drone was an Israeli Hermes 450, a multi-payload drone made by Elbit Systems, an Israel-based weapons manufacturer

AMMAN: Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah said on Sunday it downed an Israeli drone that was on a combat mission in southern Lebanon.
The drone that was brought down above the Al Aishiyeh area in southern Lebanon was “waging its attacks on our steadfast people,” a statement said by the group said.
Israeli forces and Lebanon’s armed group Hezbollah have been exchanging fire for over six months in parallel to the Gaza war, in the most serious hostilities since they fought a major war in 2006.
Hezbollah said the drone was an Israeli Hermes 450, a multi-payload drone made by Elbit Systems, an Israel-based weapons manufacturer.
The fighting has fueled concern about the risk of further escalation.
At least 370 Lebanese, including more than 240 Hezbollah fighters and 68 civilians, have been killed in the fighting according to a Reuters tally. Eighteen Israelis, including soldiers and civilians, have been killed on the Israeli side of the border, according to Israeli tallies.

 


UK PM discusses Gaza developments with Jordan’s king

UK PM discusses Gaza developments with Jordan’s king
Updated 22 April 2024
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UK PM discusses Gaza developments with Jordan’s king

UK PM discusses Gaza developments with Jordan’s king
  • Sunak told the king that the UK’s ultimate goal is to achieve a workable two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday made a phone call to Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss developments in the Gaza Strip, 10 Downing Street announced.
During the call, Sunak renewed the UK’s support for Jordan’s security and that of the region, saying a significant escalation is “not in anyone’s interests.”
He added that the UK’s focus remains on finding a solution to the conflict in Gaza.
The UK continues to work toward an immediate humanitarian truce to bring in much larger amounts of aid and return the Israeli hostages held by Hamas safely to their families, “leading to a longer-term sustainable ceasefire,” Sunak said.
The two leaders “discussed joint efforts to significantly step up aid to Gaza, with the UK taking part in Jordanian-led aid drops and a humanitarian land corridor to Gaza, as well as the maritime aid corridor from Cyprus,” Downing Street said.
Sunak told the king that the UK’s ultimate goal is to achieve a workable two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. 
The two leaders “agreed on the importance of supporting a reformed Palestinian authority to deliver stability and prosperity across the Palestinian territories,” Downing Street said.
King Abdullah warned of the danger of regional escalation, which he said threatens international peace and security, Jordan’s official Petra news agency reported.
He renewed his call for the international community to intensify efforts to reach an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza to alleviate the worsening humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged Palestinian territory, and warned of the dangerous consequences of an Israeli assault on Rafah.
The king stressed the need to protect civilians in Gaza and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid. 
He pointed to the importance of continuing to support the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees to enable it to provide its humanitarian services in accordance with its UN mandate.


Rockets fired from Iraq at US-led coalition base in Syria

Rockets fired from Iraq at US-led coalition base in Syria
Updated 22 April 2024
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Rockets fired from Iraq at US-led coalition base in Syria

Rockets fired from Iraq at US-led coalition base in Syria
  • The Iraqi military said its forces found the vehicle used by "outlaws" in the attack in northern Nineveh province
  • War monitor said the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups, was behind the attack

BAGHDAD: Rockets were fired late Sunday from northern Iraq at a military base in Syria housing a US-led coalition, according to Iraqi security forces.
In response, the Iraqi forces launched a major search operation in northern Nineveh province and found the vehicle used in the attack, they said in a statement.
It is the first major attack against the coalition forces in several weeks.
It comes days after Israel reportedly responded to an Iranian attack with a drone strike on the Islamic republic, amid tensions fueled by the Gaza war.
The statement from the Iraqi security forces accused “outlaw elements of having targetted a base of the international coalition with rockets in the heart of Syrian territory,” at around 9:50 p.m. (1850 GMT).
The security forces burned the vehicle involved in the attack, the statement added.
Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, said several rockets had been fired “from Iraqi territory at the Kharab Al-Jir base” in northeast Syria, where US forces are stationed.
He accused the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups, of staging the attack.
The group has claimed most of the attacks on US forces carried between mid-October and early February.
Following a series of rocket attacks and drone strikes by pro-Iran armed factions against US soldiers deployed in the Middle East over the winter, there had been several weeks of calm.

*The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has said it is acting in solidarity with Palestinians and out of anger at US support for Israel in the Gaza war.
A January 28 drone attack killed three US soldiers in the Jordanian desert on the Syrian border.
In response, the US military struck dozens of targets in Syria and Iraq, aiming for pro-Iran forces, and drawing criticism from the governments of both countries.
The United States has around 2,500 soldiers stationed in Iraq and nearly 900 across the border in Syria as part of an international coalition created in 2014 to fight the Daesh group (IS).
Sunday night’s rocket attack came against the background of increasing tension in the region, with a flare-up between Iran and Israel.
Early on Saturday, an explosion at an Iraqi military base killed one person and wounded eight others.
Security forces said the blast hit the Kalsu military base in Babylon province south of Baghdad, where regular army, police and members of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashed Al-Shaabi, are stationed.
CENTCOM, the US military command in the region, denied involvement in a strike there. The Israeli army refused to comment.
 


Israel’s brutal tactics blamed for Palestinians’ financial crisis

Israel’s brutal tactics blamed for Palestinians’ financial crisis
Updated 21 April 2024
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Israel’s brutal tactics blamed for Palestinians’ financial crisis

Israel’s brutal tactics blamed for Palestinians’ financial crisis

JERUSALEM: The Gaza war is speeding up Israel’s “annexation” of the Palestinian economy, say analysts, who argue it has been hobbled for decades by agreements that followed the Oslo peace accords.

While the Israel-Hamas war raging since Oct. 7 has devastated swaths of Gaza, it has also hit the public finances and wider economy of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel is tightening the noose on the Palestinian Authority, which rules parts of the West Bank, by withholding tax revenues it collects on its behalf, said economist Adel Samara.

Palestinian livelihoods have also been hurt by bans on laborers crossing into Israel and by a sharp downturn in tourism in the violence-plagued territory, including a quiet Christmas season in Bethlehem.

Samara said that “technically speaking, there is no Palestinian economy under Israeli occupation — Israel has effectively annexed our economy.”

The Palestinian economy is largely governed by the 1994 Paris Protocol, which granted sole control over the territories’ borders to Israel and, with it, the right to collect import duties and value-added tax for the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has repeatedly leveraged this power to deprive the authority of much-needed revenues.

But the Gaza war has further tightened Israel’s grip, Samara said, with the bulk of customs duties withheld since Hamas sparked the war with the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“Without these funds, the Palestinian Authority struggles to pay the salaries of its civil servants and its running costs,” said Taher Al-Labadi, a researcher at the French Institute for the Near East.