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UN Unveils Plan to Prevent a Safer Tanker Disaster

UN Unveils Plan to Prevent a Safer Tanker Disaster

Sunday, 10 April, 2022 - 06:30
The Safer Oil Tanker sailing off Hodeidah, Yemen

The United Nations revealed a "viable" plan to avoid any oil leakages or an explosion of the FSO Safer tanker off Yemen's Red Seas coast.

The United Nations announced that the Yemeni government in Aden supports the plan, and the Houthi militia, which controls the oil tanker, agreed to the initiative and signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations on March 5.

UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly said in a press conference in New York that the UN plan consists of two tracks: the first includes the installation of a long-term replacement vessel for the FSO Safer within a target period of 18 months.

The second track is implementing a four-month emergency operation to eliminate the immediate threat by transferring oil from "Safer" to a safe temporary vessel. The two tankers will remain in place until the oil is transferred to the permanent replacement vessel, at which point the existing Safer would be towed to a yard and sold for salvage.

"My team has been working very hard with others over the past six months to defuse what has aptly been called a time bomb sitting off Yemen's Red Sea coast," Gresley said at a press conference, expressing optimism that the plan will end as a positive news story.

"We have a new United Nations-coordinated plan to address the imminent threat of a major oil spill from the Safer."

The UN official warned that if the spill happened, it "would unleash a massive ecological and humanitarian catastrophe centered on a country already decimated by more than seven years of war."

He pointed out that assessments indicate that the vessel is beyond repair and is at imminent risk of oil spillage due to leakages or an explosion.

In March, an UN-led mission to the Ras Issa oil port confirmed that the 45-year-old tanker was rapidly decaying.

Gressly explained that his "particular concern is we need to finish this operation by the end of September to avoid the turbulent winds and currents that start in the latter part of the year – in October, November, December – increasing the risk of a breakup and, also, increasing the risk in conducting any operation."

He stressed that the UN plan enjoys the support of the Yemeni parties, other key stakeholders, senior UN management, and members of the Security Council, but he added, "we are not there yet."

While fears prevail that the Houthis will back down from implementing the plan, Gressly said that they are the ones who wanted to sign the MoU and came and asked for it.

The UN official clarified that the two tracks of the emergency operation would proceed simultaneously, but raising funds would be critical.

He established that the cost is approximately $80 million, including the salvage operation, a substantial crude carrier lease to hold the oil, and crew and maintenance for 18 months.

Gressly is expected to head a delegation on a Gulf tour to discuss the plan and call for support.

He also confirmed that the Netherlands, one of the main stakeholders in supporting the UN efforts, will host a donors' meeting in the coming weeks.

"The plan's success hinges on donor commitments of funds now to begin work by the beginning of June," Gressly said, stressing that waiting beyond that "means delaying the start of the project by several months, leaving this time bomb to continue to tick."

Over the past years, Houthi militias rejected all international efforts to empty the tank to avoid an explosion, despite the approval of the legitimate government and its proposal to sell the stored oil and use its revenues for the health sector in the militia-controlled areas.

International studies have confirmed that the explosion of the oil tanker will destroy fishing activities on the Red Sea coast and will immediately wipe out 200,000 livelihoods. Whole families would be exposed to life-threatening toxins.

A major oil spill will also temporarily close the ports of Hodeidah and Saleef, and the environmental impact on water, coral reefs, and supporting mangroves would be severe to neighboring countries.

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