The United Nations said Wednesday it has raised the $75 million necessary to salvage the Safer, a stricken tanker off Yemen, in an emergency operation aimed at averting a disastrous Red Sea oil spill -- and a potential $20 billion cleanup.
UN officials last month warned that the 45-year-old FSO Safer, abandoned off the port of Hodeidah, was a ticking environmental time bomb requiring immediate action.
"We are able to announce we have now pledges and commitment sufficient to start the FSO Safer salvage operation," said David Gressly, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Yemen and leader of the global body's efforts on the Safer.
"It's a very key milestone," he said, adding that donor pledges have now topped $77 million.
The first phase of the salvage operation would stabilize the FSO Safer and transfer the oil to another vessel.
A second phase involving long-term storage of the cargo is estimated to cost another $38 million.
"We believe that we could meet that in a timely fashion," Gressly said of the cost.
The ship contains 1.1 million barrels of oil. The United Nations has said a spill could destroy ecosystems, shut down the fishing industry and close the Hodeidah port for six months.
The result would potentially be the fifth largest oil spill from a tanker in history, with the clean-up costs alone reaching $20 billion.