A recent study has warned that the coastline of Yemen’s Red Sea and of its neighboring countries is at risk of an environmental disaster that could happen any day if an oil spill from or an explosion takes place at the derelict FSO Safer oil tanker.
“It is increasingly likely that there could be an immense oil leakage from and/or an explosion of the FSO Safer, a floating storage and offloading unit anchored in the Red Sea, 60km north of the port of Hodeidah,” said Riskaware, Catapult Satellite Applications and Acaps in their joint assessment.
Although it is owned by Yemen’s national oil company, FSO Safer fell into the hands of Iran-backed Houthi militias in 2015. Since then, no maintenance work has been carried out on the aging tanker.
Disregarding international warnings against the hazards of poor maintenance at FSO Safer, Houthis continue to block a team of UN experts from repairing the rundown oil vessel.
FSO Safer is currently holding 1.1 million barrels of crude oil that are at a risk of either exploding or spilling into Red Sea waters.
“Up to 5.9 million people in Yemen and 1 million in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) could be exposed to very high air pollution levels, with harmful effects seen 24–48 hours after a fire starting on the Safer,” said study.
In its impact assessment for April-June 2021, the study warned that up to 967,000 internally displaced persons could be covered by a smoke plume if an explosion goes off at Safer.
The fire, according to the study, would likely affect Yemen’s governorates of Hajjah, Hodeidah, Sadah, Dhamar, Sanaa, Al Mahwit, and Raymah.
Saudi Arabia’s southern Jazan city could also be affected, the study added.
“There would be a significant health risk to vulnerable populations (such as adults and children with lung problems and adults with heart problems) and the elderly, with aggravation of pre-existing heart and lung problems likely,” it highlighted.
Pollution from a fire taking place on FSO Safer would create an additional hazard for coronavirus patients with breathing problems.